When parents pick their child up from preschool, there are two questions that are most prominently heard as they eagerly greet children: “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?”
Unfortunately, this type of inquiry rarely results in the kind of discussion that parents are seeking. In fact, many preschoolers respond with “I don’t know/can’t remember” or “Uh, nothing.”
While open ended questions are a great way to learn more about children’s feelings, ideas and experiences, these end-of-day questions are typically too broad for a child to really engage in; especially if they are hungry or tired. Unless the child’s day included something very out-of-the-ordinary, it can be difficult for kids to immediately recall and report out on the day’s activities, which can be a real road block for parents who are seeking and engaging conversation with their young learner.
These fifteen questions are a bit more specific than ‘how was your day,’ but can prompt answers that will effectively tell parents all about the child’s activities and experiences for the day.
Try using just a few of the questions to start and follow the child’s lead in extending the conversation.
- What is your favorite color? Did you see or use that color today?
- Who did you play with today?
- What book(s) did you read today
- What was something funny that happened today?
- Were there any parts of your day that were ‘blah?’
- Did you have to use a pencil/marker/crayon/paintbrush today? What did you do with it?
- Who is the first person that said ‘hi’ to you today?
- Who was the first person that you played with?
- What was your classroom job today? Which job is your favorite/least favorite to have?
- What is the most special thing to you in our home? Is there anything at school that is most special to you?
- Who is the nicest person that you know?
- What is your favorite place in your school/classroom?
- Is there anyone in your class that you’ve never played with before?
- What was the easiest thing that you did today?
- What was the hardest thing that you did today?
Do you have ideas to share with parents about questions that are great conversation starters with kids? Please share your suggestions or experiences
The summer months are a great time to get outdoors and let children explore the world around them. These tips will ensure that the fun doesn’t need to end due to sun damaged skin, dehydration or water-related accidents. Read on and have a safe summer!
The Skin Cancer Foundation warns that “Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.” This means that no matter what a child’s skin tone may be, protecting their skin from the sun’s harmful rays is an absolute must. Here are some skin safety reminders for children 6 months and older:
- Choose broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
- Spray sunscreen is great for wiggly little ones, but should not be sprayed directly onto their face. Instead, spray the sunscreen mist into your hands first and then apply carefully to the child’s face and ears.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours or after swimming and excessive sweating.
- Use hats and sunglasses for extra protection
While sunscreen can be a wonderful protectant for older infants and children, parents and caregivers should avoid using sunscreen on babies who are less than six months old because the infant’s skin is still too sensitive for most sunscreens. Keep young infants’ skin safe by
- Dressing babies in lightweight clothing that covers the infant’s arms and legs.
- Dress infants in wide-brimmed hats that will protect their ears, neck and face.
- Use a protective cover on your stroller to keep baby from being burned while out for a walk.
Hooray for Hydration
BabyCenter.com warns that summer heat can be a significant catalyst for dehydration; especially for children who “are less likely than adults to remember to drink fluid-especially when they’re having fun playing outside.”
Adults can encourage children to drink more water throughout hot summer days by
- Keeping a water bottle handy. Kids are more likely to remember to take a drink if they see that water is available!
- Serve hydrating snacks like watermelon, cucumber slices and popsicles made with real fruit juice.
- Add fun flavors to your water with fresh fruit, like sliced strawberries, pineapple and oranges. This is a much healthier alternative to artificially flavored and dyed beverages like sports drinks and soda, which can contain a ton of sugar and are less effective in hydrating hot children.
- Remind kids to stop and take a drink throughout the day.
Important reminder: Just like sunscreen, water is not safe for young infants who are less than six months old. Babies 0-6 months typically receive as much water as they need through breast milk and formula. Too much water can cause water intoxication. For more information about when to introduce babies to drinking water, visit www.healthychildren.org.
When children are properly supervised, water play is a fun way to beat the summer heat. While many adults are aware of the danger that is present at the beach or a swimming pool, caregivers must never forget that drowning can occur even in shallow wading pools and water tables. Whether you’re poolside or at home, these tips will help your family enjoy water play safely:
- Give children undivided attention when playing in or near open water. Avoid distraction by putting cell phones away so that children are actively supervised at all times.
- Teach children how to swim.
- If there are several adults present while children are playing in or around water, designate a ‘Water Watcher’ who oversees water play for specific increments of time to prevent any lapses in adult supervision.
- Teach children to swim and play in water only when an adult is present.
- Learn CPR so that you are able to assist if there is ever an emergency.
For more water safety tips and guidance about designating a ‘Water Watcher,’ visit www.safekids.org
Loose Parts Basics
Though architect Simon Nicholson developed the “Theory of Loose Parts” over 40 years ago in 1972, the theory and movement has recently gained new momentum as parents and educators return to natural materials and environments to support children’s learning and creativity.
For young children, loose parts are simply materials that can be moved, arranged, manipulated, stacked, carried or combined in multiple ways. Loose parts are the most effective tool for providing open-ended play opportunities where children do not use any specific set of directions or instructions for how to interact with the materials that are available. Explaining the basis of his theory, Nicholson stated, “Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.”
Both synthetic and natural materials can be included in a loose parts collection, though the bulk of what you will typically find in a loose parts center should tend toward natural materials. Here is a list of some ideas for parts to include in an outdoor loose parts learning environment:
Stones and pebbles
Sticks and logs
Twine or rope
Opportunities for Learning and Development
One thing that many commercial toys lack is the opportunity for children to look at the toy as anything but what it’s been molded and marketed as. A battery operated toy microphone, for instance, is difficult to imagine as anything else; especially when the microphone is made of plastic, plays loud sounds and has been so specifically constructed. Loose parts, on the other hand, allow children to look at an object not as what it literally is, but as something that could be nearly anything that the child can imagine.
Open-ended play and loose parts not only encourage creative thinking; but also the development of sensory awareness and the opportunity for children to discover and master their environments. The autonomy that children gain through loose parts construction and exploration will support the child in building mental flexibility and adaptability as the child uses increasingly complex problem solving skills over time.
What’s most remarkable about loose parts play is that it supports learning in every single learning domain; language and literacy, science, math, art, music and physical fitness. An outdoor classroom with loose parts will:
Provide children with exposure to a broader range of vocabulary
provoke the child to construct higher order inquisitions about scientific processes and concepts; like life cycles, weather patterns and nature’s interdependent structure
challenge the child to use new strategies for accomplishing physical and mental tasks independently
Encourage gross motor development through ‘heavy work;’ pushing, pulling, lifting and rolling
Where to Start
Once caregivers and educators have decided to provide loose parts play opportunities, there may be some wonder about how to choose materials and whether the children will even be interested in the ‘new toys’ that have been offered.
Gathering materials must be done thoughtfully to ensure that there are a variety of sizes, shapes, textures and materials available. Quantities of each material should reflect the number of children that will be using the loose parts, and each different category of material should have its own space or storage so that all of the materials are organized, visually appealing and accessible to the children who will use them. A disheveled pile of sticks and rocks is very difficult to imagine as construction material; a basket of stones and crate of sticks, however, are much more likely to be selected by children who want to build a fort.
Outdoor learning specialist and loose parts advocate, Patty Born Selly, encourages parents and teachers to also be patient, and remember that “Chances are, these children have become accustomed to electronic toys or action figures.” If children seem confused about how to use the loose parts that are now being offered, or do not have an automatic attraction to the materials; parents and educators can serve as guides for the child as they become familiar with the new loose parts by using prompting questions (“What does the shape of this rock remind you of?”) or by modeling how to use the loose parts themselves. Once children see how one can build a town or racetrack from sticks and differently sized stones, the students will ask questions and engage because the teacher’s behavior alone is welcoming the children to explore. Soon, the instructor’s town is a distant memory as the children have become confident with their new materials and are now constructing a playground for the ants they’ve found nearby.
Parents and caregivers sometimes hear the reminder “Don’t forget to take care of yourself;” but wonder how self-care could be a practical part of their busy lifestyles. Further, most natural caregivers are uncomfortable prioritizing themselves because it feels selfish or unproductive. In truth, self-care is an essential skill that will only enhance the caregiver’s ability to effectively support others. Without the ability to nurture one’s self physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually; caregivers are at risk for burnout, fatigue and other barriers that will drastically impact the quality of care that they can provide for others.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is the regular and ongoing way that a person actively participates in enhancing their health and quality of life. At the most basic level, self-care includes responding to your own physical and mental health needs such as illness, injury and chronic pain as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety. Caregivers who neglect their personal health are not as physically or emotionally able to effectively meet the needs of others and can risk developing much more serious health issues when personal care is neglected or postponed.
While personal health care is the foundation for an essential self-care routine, there are additional elements of self-care that must not be neglected. Social experiences, spiritual and creative practice, exercise and healthful eating habits are among the self-care basics that are most often overlooked by caregivers who falsely believe that spending time on these types of activities is selfish or indulgent. Instead, spending time with friends, attending church or participating in a book club all provide opportunities to rejuvenate the caregiver’s energy and ability to respond to the needs of others in a positive and intentional way.
Making Time for Self-Care
All kinds of caregivers can struggle with making time for self-care, though parents tend to be among the most resistant to prioritizing self-care; perhaps because their work is a 24 hour-a-day job. Regardless of the schedule, self-care can be integrated in a way that promotes the caregiver’s health and well-being while still meeting the needs of those in their care.
Small Doses Make a Big Difference
The most overwhelming myth that caregivers tell themselves is that they cannot spare any time for self-care. The truth is that every schedule can accommodate time for self-care; even if it’s only 10 minutes to meditate or write in a journal. Whether the time occurs before the caregiver’s day begins or during small blocks of down-time throughout the day; try starting with just 10 or 15 minutes for activities like walking, yoga, breathing exercises or a brief call to a friend. Even in small doses each day, intentional self-care boosts a caregiver’s energy, mood and resilience to challenging situations.
Ask For Help
Another story that caregivers tell themselves is that to ask for help would mean that the caregiver is less competent in their work or is weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Effective caregivers know that by asking for help, they will have the support they need to overcome challenges and to maintain a positive approach to caregiving. Professional caregivers can ask colleagues for support and relief, even if it’s only a short break to take a walk outside. Personal caregivers and parents should reach out to family members and friends to ask for an hour of babysitting while they practice the activities in their self-care routine. Allowing loved ones to support self-care needs will not only provide the caregiver with personal time, it will also enhance personal relationships and model positive lifestyle habits for others; especially children.
Self-Care is a Smart Investment
When caregivers reach a point of burnout, chronic fatigue or depression, their work is no longer effective and the caregiver will need to invest a significant amount of time in self-care in order to regain the motivation, energy and general well-being that’s been lost. Instead of neglecting one’s self to the point of suffering, caregivers can integrate a regular self-care routine that only costs minutes per day and will enhance their quality of life almost immediately. Remember, self-care is not a single activity that one enjoys over the course of days, weeks or months. Instead, genuine and effective self-care is practiced daily to ensure that caregivers maintain the energy, desire, physical and mental health needed to perform such demanding work. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s the most selfless thing a caregiver can do to ensure the quality care of others.
Tell us your experiences with self-care. Do you have any ideas about easy ways to integrate self-care into caregiver routines? Share with us below!
When staff at Clayton Early Learning heard about a major expansion project at the Children’s Museum of Denver, we reached out to our friends at the museum to learn more! The museum’s Associate Director of Marketing and Memberships, Zoe Ocampo, gave us tons of exciting updates to share so that your family won’t miss out on any of the fun new exhibits that have been recently added or are scheduled to open later this year.
The Children’s Museum of Denver is already packed with great activities for children and families! What inspired this expansion project?
ZO: We’re glad that Colorado families enjoy visiting the museum and we want to be sure that we have plenty to see and experience for everyone that comes through our doors. As museum attendance has continued to grow (74% since 2003), we knew that we would need get bigger, too! For the last 7 years, we’ve committed to serious planning that’s included site visits, feasibility studies, consulting with community partners and a lot of fundraising. Ultimately, this is a $16.1 million expansion project that will more than double the size of the museum!
What kinds of new exhibits can we look forward to? Are any of them open yet?
Joy Park: An Outdoor Adventure is definitely my favorite exhibit that’s come from the expansion and it’s already open to the public. This exhibit is a giant, invigorating outdoor experience where children are immersed in unstructured, imaginative and independent play. There are awesome features including canyons, rivers, a fort building station and even a zip line! Joy Park is my favorite because it’s a total throw back to the days when kids could play outside until dark all on their own. Times have changed, but the need for open-ended play hasn’t; so we created a safe and exciting space where children could explore and imagine the way that many of today’s adults recall from their own childhoods.
Village of Healthy Smiles is also open now. This exhibit was designed to captivate imaginations while teaching kids and their grown-ups about the importance of dental health in a way that is fun and engaging. In the Village of Healthy Smiles, families really love “The Brush Together Cottage,” “The Tooth Fairy’s Workshop” and “Sugar Bugs Plaza.” Like all of our exhibits, this is a great example of how children learn through play and hands-on experiences.
The rest of our new exhibits are still being built, but they will be completed later this year. Here’s a sneak peek at the new exhibits that families can look forward to:
The Art Studio will be a 2,300 square-foot interactive art exhibit and gallery where guests will experience visual art with raw materials, a clay studio, collaborative painting projects, art-rich programming and a year-round Colorado artist-in-residence program.
The Teaching Kitchen provides a fully functioning kitchen where visitors will enjoy container gardens and an aquaponics system that teaches children about where their food comes from and invites families to prepare healthy foods together.
Then there are element exhibits that each focus on a different facet of our environment:
Energy is a space where children will find, collect and use resources like wind, solar and fossil fuel through activity stations like rocket launching and a one-of-a-kind whoopee cushion wall!
Water is a 2,200 square-foot hands-in laboratory that replicates an urban water system. Young scientists will have myriad of opportunities to explore the properties of water, investigate flow and test complex ideas about buoyancy, density, displacement and cause and effect.
Altitude is a 3 ½ story vertical climbing structure that brings a Colorado mountain adventure right into the city. This exhibit offers a gondola, swaying rope bridges, hovering clouds and an ice-capped summit. After experiencing the Altitude exhibit, parents may discover that they have a climber-in-training on their hands!
Wow! We have a feeling that families will be really excited to visit Children’s Museum of Denver after reading about all of these new and upcoming exhibits. What tips can you offer for families when planning their visit?
ZO: Even though many of the new exhibits aren’t open yet, families should definitely come and check out Joy Park and our Village of Healthy Smiles while we continue working on the rest of the expansion. One insider tip for grown-ups is that if they’re looking to beat the crowds, sunny days tend to be our slowest times; although, with Joy Park open, that may change!. Also, a lot of families don’t realize that we’re open late on Wednesday nights-until 7:30pm! So Wednesdays can be a great time to stop in after school or work. I think that the most important tip for adults to remember is that the museum is designed to be fun for the whole family; not just kids! Parents and caregivers should definitely let themselves have fun with their children in our awesome exhibits. Not only is Children’s Museum of Denver a great place for children to play and learn, it’s also full of interesting facts for adults and provides a unique environment where children and their grown-ups can create amazing memories and discover new interests to share with each other.
Thanks for all of this great information Zoe. We can’t wait to watch as the expansion continues to take shape!
Children’s Museum of Denver is a proud partner and participating site for the City of Denver’s 5 By 5 Program. For more information about this resource for families, click here.
To learn more about the Children’s Museum of Denver expansion and to read other museum announcements, visit www.mychildsmuseum.org.
Store-bought baby food jars and pouches are certainly convenient, but many parents are surprised to learn just how easy it is to make baby food from scratch, too! At Clayton Early Learning, our incredible kitchen staff make fresh purees for infants so that we can be sure that every baby is receiving the highest quality food from the earliest stages of development. Still not sure if making your own is the right choice for your family? Here are some of the perks to preparing your own baby food:
Homemade Baby Food Saves Money
At nearly $1 per jar (or more!), store-bought baby food can quickly become an expensive endeavor. The same dollar spent on a jar of baby food stretches so much further when purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. For instance, a large sweet potato may cost up to 99 cents, but can easily produce four or servings for an infant. Other thrifty produce include fresh carrots, squash, apples and pears; especially when seasonally purchased and frozen for later use.
Preparation is Quick and Easy
Though there are many kitchen gadgets designed especially for making baby food, the same type of puree can be achieved by simply steaming and blending almost any fruit or vegetable. Most families already have the supplies that they need to begin making and storing baby purees: a pan and steaming basket, a blender or food processor and storage containers such as small Tupperware cups or even ice cube trays. Just blend the foods, distribute into each cube holder and freeze until you’re ready to heat and serve the pre-portioned meal. Not only will families save space with the ice cube tray method, but they are also able to easily adjust the serving size of a baby’s meal as their appetite increases or varies.
So Many More Choices for Your Baby
Sometimes the variety available for store-bought food can seem quite limiting. While parents and caregivers will want to slowly introduce new foods to ensure that their baby doesn’t have any food allergies or intolerances, there’s no need for infant meals to be limited to pureed peas and carrots when there are so many nutrient-packed fresh foods to choose from! Avocado, melon, plantain and blueberries are only a few of the tasty foods that are rarely found in store-bought purees. Once families have confirmed which foods are right for their baby, parents can begin preparing blended purees that are more like the meals that the rest of the family enjoys. For guidance about foods to avoid feeding infants as well as tips for safely introduce new foods, see the links below.
Remember, whether parents choose to exclusively feed their baby homemade purees, rely only on store-bought jarred baby food or decide to use a combination of both homemade and store-bought foods; every family is unique and the ‘right’ choice is simply what’s best for each individual family.
For more information about food safety for infants, click on these links:
For unique and nutritious recipes and guidance for getting started, click on these links:
Do you have a favorite recipe to recommend or tips for parents who are getting ready to introduce their infant to pureed food? Share with us in the comments below!
Are you interested in supporting young children's language and literacy development, but you're not quite sure where to start? We're kicking off 'I Love to Read Month' by sharing four easy ways to transform everyday experiences and routines into opportunities for young children to enhance their vocabularies, strengthen children's early phonemic awareness and a develop a life-long love of reading.
1. Conversations with Kids
Learning how to have a conversation is a lot of work for young children. Even after little ones have developed a larger vocabulary to help them communicate their needs or ideas, children may struggle with grasping the ‘conversational rules’ that adults take for granted; like turn-taking and maintaining eye contact with the person that you’re talking to.
When parents are talking to babies, try modeling conversational rules by pausing after posing a question to the infant. Even though the baby may not respond at first, infants will begin participating in conversation with caregivers by cooing back when the adult pauses between questions or comments to the baby.
If an older toddler or preschool-aged child isn’t engaging with adult attempts to converse, environmental factors may be the issue. Try asking questions or making comments and observations when there are fewer distractions, like toys, TV or music. Not sure where to start? When the radio is turned down or turned off, car rides are a great time to capture a child’s attention, model rules of conversation and promote vocabulary development all at once!
2. Point Out Print
Whether at home, in transit, at the grocery store or the playground, there are written words everywhere that adults can point out for young children. By reading aloud the messages on street signs, store windows and billboards, adults are supporting children’s familiarity with commonly reoccurring words and early grasp of phonics.
When pointing out the words and reading them aloud, adults can emphasize letter sounds, which will encourage infants and toddlers to try making that sound while also supporting preschoolers in developing letter-sound recognition.
3. Story Time
Most adults are aware that reading to preschool-aged children is a great way to support a child’s journey to becoming an independent reader. What isn’t as widely known is that infants and toddlers stand to benefit just as much from this activity! Infants and toddlers develop vocabulary more easily when they are frequently read to, even if the youngster isn’t developmentally ready to follow the storyline. In fact, rather than reading text to infants and young toddlers, adults can use comments and questions about the pictures on each page to promote vocabulary and early phonemic development. Technically referred to as ‘Dialogic Reading,’ this strategy not only enhances the child and caregiver relationship, but produces research-proven outcomes for early learners. To read more about dialogic reading for young children, use this link to one of our previous blog posts about Dialogic Reading: http://www.claytonearlylearning.org/blog/?p=943
4. Set the Example
Think that only a professionally trained teacher can support early literacy and language development for young children? Think again! Parents and primary caregivers are the most important and influential teacher that a child will ever have. As early as infancy, children are keen observers of adult behaviors and will try to imitate the behaviors that are modeled for them by the important adults in their lives. Later, as children continue to develop cognitively and emotionally, even their personal beliefs and priorities are influenced by adult family members.
The good news is that the easiest way to help a child become an avid reader is for adults to simply show children how to enjoy reading! A child will more easily develop an interest in reading and an appreciation for books when the child observes their primary caregiver engaging in reading activities and hears the adult discussing books. Further, when adults prioritize daily reading with children, the youngster develops a value for literacy and learning, in general; a value that follows the youngest students as they become life-long learners.
Do these tips sound easy to implement or do you have additional strategies to share with parents and caregivers? We want to hear your ideas for promoting early language and literacy development as well as any challenges that you’ve encountered as a parent or teacher who is supporting language and literacy with young children. Please share your experiences below!
Looking for a great toy for infants and toddlers under the age of 3? Look no further than what you have at home!
With so many new products being introduced to families and children through TV, radio, internet and print, it’s no wonder why parents and caregivers struggle with selecting toys to give to their children. It wasn’t until my second child was born (and I had a few years of teaching under my belt) before I discovered a ton of great toys that are not only educational and fun, but can be made from supplies that I (usually) have just laying around the house!
What They Are
Take the blocks that you probably already have at home and give them a personal touch by adding pictures of friends, family or objects to the flat sides of the block. Babies and toddlers will love seeing the familiar images as they manipulate, stack and sort the blocks! Adults and older children can use the blocks to encourage language in younger infants (“What’s on this block? What do you see? It’s a dog! What does a dog say?”), while older toddlers can begin matching blocks that ‘belong’ together by pairing or sorting the blocks that have family members on them, or by finding all of the blocks that have pictures of animals, etc.
How to Make your Own
If you don’t want to use photos for your blocks, this is a great way to make use of your old magazines and newspapers. After you’ve collected and cut out the images you want to place on the blocks, use clear packaging tape to cover the picture while securing it to the block. Avoid using any kind of chemical gloss or sealant, as this will become dangerous when children put the blocks in their mouths.
What They Are
Exploration, or sensory bottles, are sealed containers filled with different types of materials that allow infants and toddlers to experiment with movement and affects that appeal to our senses by providing a mess-free way for kids to experiment with different materials and textures. Early experiences with cause and effect, weight and movement are all provided by this hand-held bottle that most of us can make out of things we already have in our homes! Kids love them because they’re often filled with various art supplies and object, such as glitter and marbles. Though commonly thought of by teachers as a science or self-regulation toy, sensory bottles are fun because children can use them in a variety of ways. Try picking filler materials that will have a different effect when added to the bottle. For instance, one bottle might have water and glitter in it, while another has corn syrup and marbles. Babies will be amazed as they see the glitter flowing quickly through the water in one bottle, while the marbles move s-u-p-e-r s-l-o-w-l-y through the other! Adults and older children can use this as an opportunity to talk to babies and toddlers about things like color, shape as well as early concepts of opposites, texture and counting.
How to Make your Own
Empty plastic water bottles are probably the easiest thing to use when you’re just getting started with this fun project. Once you’ve selected your clear containers to fill, you can begin choosing various materials to fill the bottle. Be creative and try to make a bottle that will appeal to each of your baby’s senses! A bottle with dried beans will make a great noise when baby shakes it, while a bottle with water in it will be heavier and often cool to the touch. Once you’ve filled the bottles, seal them by super-gluing the lid onto the container. Be careful not to use too much glue so that babies can mouth the bottle without risk of oral contact with the adhesive. Once the cap is secured on to the bottle and the glue has dried thoroughly, your baby will have a great new toy that’s as developmentally stimulating as it is fun!
Baby’s First Wallet
What It Is
Have you ever noticed that babies and toddlers are intrigued by the everyday accessories that belong to adults and older children? Infants and toddlers love to pull picture cards and identification out of wallets almost as much as they delight in finding a few pennies in a coin purse! Parents can keep their things safe while giving baby an interesting and challenging way to develop their fine motor skills by putting together a wallet that is just for their little one!
How to Make your Own
Find an old or unused wallet and begin filling it with things that are safe for and interesting to your infant or toddler. Old gift cards or grocery store club cards are perfect for filling the small pockets of a wallet, while larger laminated pictures make a fun alternative for the bill-fold section of the wallet. As the child gets older, the wallet may not be as challenging to manipulate as it once was, but kids will still enjoy using it for dramatic play and to mimic the ‘grown-up’ behaviors that they observe when watching you at the grocery store, library, etc.
As with selecting any toy for your young child, avoid small items that may become choking hazards as well as any materials that are considered toxic or harmful if ingested.
Have you ever experimented with making your own toys for young children? Please share your stories and ideas in the comments section!
Whether this school year marks a child’s first experience in preschool or a student’s final year before graduation, families may be wondering how they can support their learner through a successful school year. Though many parents and caregivers struggle to balance the demands of home, work schedules, school events and their child’s activities, there are several ways to make the school year more manageable for everyone while providing students and teachers with the support they need to realize every student’s maximum potential this academic season.
Mark Your Calendar
Most school or district websites offer a calendar of important dates that occur throughout the school year. By marking family calendars with the dates of school holidays and closures, parent meetings, back-to-school nights, etc., adults will have more time to plan for these events so that families can avoid stressful last-minute arrangements. In addition, engaging children in the process of using a calendar to plan for the school year provides parents with an opportunity to model positive time management skills and habits. Children who observe and learn effective strategies for planning are receiving a valuable lesson in stress management and how to prioritize tasks. This habit not only promotes family well-being, but also provides students with effective personal/social skills that they will continue to use as successful adults!
Stock up on Supplies for School and Home Before you Run Out
Though it may already feel as though families are asked to purchase an exhaustive list of supplies at the beginning of each school year, children seem to run low on or lose many of the most basic supplies long before the year is through. By keeping extra pencils, pens, paper and folders at home, parents and caregivers can ensure that students have the tools that they will need to complete assignments without adults needing to run to the store every couple of months. Another perk to stocking up in the fall is that prices are often lower at the beginning of the school year when large chain stores offer special back-to-school sales. Another great place to find school supply bargains is the local dollar store. This is an economical way to keep spare supplies handy for those nights when parents hear, “I think I left my calculator at the library… and I can’t finish my homework without it!”
Share Knowledge of your Child with Teachers
No one knows a student the way that the child’s family does. Parents of younger children often recognize specific behaviors that tell caregivers when the child is tired, overwhelmed, hungry or scared. Families with older students are likely to know just when their child is bored, putting forth their best effort or maybe could use some extra help. Even though teachers want to learn as much as they can about each student’s interests and strengths, this task can be very difficult in a classroom of 20 pupils who are becoming acclimated to the classroom environment. When families share unique insights with teachers, educators are given the valuable information needed to individualize their approach to working with each student. Even families who are short on time to schedule a one-on-one with their student’s teachers can utilize this support strategy by scheduling a phone conference or connecting via email. Parents of preschool-aged children have an opportunity to communicate with teachers regularly by planning to spend a few minutes in the child’s classroom each morning at drop-off. Not only will this ensure that parents can provide valuable updates about the child and can inquire about what’s happening in the classroom, this will also support the child’s confidence so that the student can begin each day feeling secure and ready to learn. By sharing the family’s expertise about their student’s strengths, learning style, experiences and personality, parents and caregivers are preparing teachers to plan more intentionally so that the educator can better meet each student’s classroom needs. This is how a positive family-school relationship is established through communication and collaboration.
Discuss and Establish a Family Vision for a Successful School Year
Everyone has a varying definition or vision of what success means to them. For some families, a successful school year may mean that the student’s grades increase, while another family hopes that their child will make more friends or increase participation in extra-curricular activities. By discussing each family member’s goals for the year, the family as a whole can begin to share a vision for success and make plans for how the whole family will support that vision throughout the school year. If the vision is to increase homework completion rates or grades, adults can support this goal by providing the learner with a quiet place to do their homework. Younger siblings can pitch in too by committing to respect their sibling’s need for quiet by planning to play in a different room whenever their brother or sister is engaged in school work. For younger children, a successful school year may require that the child gets into a consistent bedtime routine so that they are prepared to learn by receiving plenty of sleep each night. The family can support by participating in an evening routine that will ensure enough time for the young student to transition through dinner, play time and reading before bed. After establishing a vision for success and the steps needed to accomplish the vision, the family can revisit their goals periodically by opening up a discussion about what the family is currently doing to support their shared vision or any steps that are needed to get back on the track to a successful school year.
Clayton Wants to Know
- How did your family prepare for the school year? Are there any strategies that have made a positive impact for your family or are there strategies that you would like to adopt?
- Was your child anxious or excited about the upcoming school year? Were your student’s feelings about starting school similar or different from your own as a parent or caregiver?
- What do you wish that your child’s teachers had known about your student before the first day of school?
Anyone who has taken an airplane flight is probably familiar with the safety instructions that insist: “In the case of emergency, adult passengers should always put on their own oxygen mask before attempting to assist children and other passengers.” The idea that we cannot care for others without first tending to ourselves makes sense in an emergency, though many parents are challenged by accepting this advice in their day-to-day routines.
For most American parents, our culture seems to insist that parents always care for their child’s needs before the parental well-being is addressed. Does selfless parenting result in happier children? Happier families? Recent studies suggest the opposite. Though controversial to consider and challenging to discuss, many researchers and social scientists are asserting that the happiest families are being raised by happy parents, and that happy parents are those who prioritize their own self-care over the superfluous wants and desires of their children.
As counselor Joan LeFebvre explains, “Parenting stress is directly related to high workload, low social support, fussy-difficult child(ren), negative life events and child caretaking hassles” (LeFebvre, 2010). This means that the additional tasks, responsibilities and chores that parents take upon themselves in effort to please their children (sports practices, children’s activities, pressure to buy the newest clothes and toys), may be the very stressors that prevent parents from modeling a happy and satisfied lifestyle for their families.
To be clear, this theory does not recommend that parents should deny their children’s basic needs for food, shelter and emotional support under any circumstances. Rather that we, as parents, reevaluate the balance between the love and care that we provide unconditionally for our children vs. the love and care that we provide for ourselves and our partners.
What is Self-Care?
According to Dr. Christine Meinecke, “Self-care means choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors…Also essential to self-care is learning to self-soothe or calm our physical and emotional distress” (Meinecke, 2010). Though sometimes confused with self-indulgence, self-care is less about spoiling oneself with luxuries and truly focuses on efforts and actions that support a person’s physical, mental and emotional health.
LeFebvre contends that there are four dimensions of self-care:
- Intellectual needs. These can be satisfied by going to the library, taking a class or workshop, discussing ideas with other adults or watching a documentary about a topic that is of interest to you.
- Spiritual needs. In addition to involvement in a faith community, these needs can be met through meditation, volunteer work, or even taking a private opportunity to enjoy the environment by watching a sunrise or sunset.
- Social/Emotional needs are met by connecting with friends, finding ‘alone time’ to reflect and dream, journaling and planning time to spend with a partner.
- Physical needs. When we treat our bodies well, we feel better in almost every way. Caring for physical needs can be done through eating well, exercising regularly (even for short amounts of time) and getting enough sleep (2010).
How Will Doing More for Myself Have a Positive Impact on My Family?
Self-care is like investing in your own well-being, and as research indicates, happy parents have happier children. Below are just three ways that happy and health parents promote happier and healthier children:
- Parents are a child’s most important teacher. Sound like a big responsibility? It is! The good news is that most of your teaching is accomplished through modeling. From the way that parents communicate to the foods that a mom or dad selects for their own plate; children are learning more about what it means to be human by watching their own parents than kids will learn anywhere else. This means that if a parent models self-esteem, low stress levels and an appreciation for their own well-being, a child will develop a personal value for those things as well. Conversely, however, a parent who exclusively seeks to please and accommodate others may very well be teaching their child to neglect their own needs (Hill, 2010).
- By giving to themselves, parents will have more to give to their children. When are you most proud of your parenting efforts? When you’re too exhausted to read one more story? When you’re so stressed that you can’t enjoy mealtime with the rest of your family? Of course not. Parents put their best foot forward when they feel energetic, satisfied and enthusiastic. Incredibly enough, these are the results that one can expect when engaged in a consistent self-care routine or lifestyle. Maybe your self-care includes time to yourself, which at first may feel selfish. The result of personal time, however, is a re-energized parent whose time with their children is of greater quality. An hour dedicated just to you is a very small price to pay for hours of engaged family time later (Hill, 2010).
- Parental self-care prevents child abuse. Researchers from Parents Anonymous, a national support group for parents, insist that all parents maintain their social relationships with friends and loved ones in effort to prevent parent burnout and reduce the likeliness that an overstressed parent may hurt or neglect a child). Studies conducted by Parents Anonymous explain that, “social connections are one of the greatest protective factors for parents in the prevention of child abuse.” While parents often report feelings of guilt when they spend social time outside of the home, many experts agree that this kind of self-care is more likely to positively impact the parent-child relationship than to damage it (Polinsky, et al, 2010).
How Can I Find Time for Self-Care?
For many families, there aren’t enough hours in a day to fit in every activity or shared moment that a parent may wish for. Fortunately, self-care is important enough that finding time is much less important than making time. Whether it means waking up a little earlier than the children to have a quiet cup of coffee on the porch or staying up a little later to have a much needed chat with your best friend, parents must re-evaluate whatever schedule they currently follow to ensure that their days, weeks and months include protected time that parents can invest in themselves.
Here are a few ideas for parents who struggle to make time for self-care:
- Call a friend or family member to ask if they can watch the children for just one or two hours. This time can be used for relaxation, exercise, reflection or even rest.
- Re-connect with a friend or spouse over a lunch break.
- Plan a late night dinner date at home. It’s okay to make the kids their own special dinner once in a while. Then, after they have gone to bed, parents can enjoy ‘grown-up time’ over a home cooked meal for two where they talk, laugh and enjoy uninterrupted time together.
- Establish a mutually beneficial play-date schedule. Does your child have a favorite friend that lives nearby? Two families can easily become a support for one another by trading the job of hosting play dates. Kids will love the extra time with friends, while parents will enjoy looking forward to their turn for a night or afternoon off!
What are your thoughts or practices regarding parental self-care? Is self-care a necessary strategy for positive parenting or do you think that parents need to focus less on themselves and more on their children?
Hill, Amelia. (2010). Parents will raise happierchildren ‘if they put them second to their marriage.’ The Observer. Retrieved from www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/07/parents-advised-put0children-second/print
LeFebvre, J.E. (2010). Parent Self-Care. University of Washington Extension.
Meinecke, C. (2010). Self-care in a toxic world. Psychology Today. Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com/blog/everybody-marries-the-wrong-person/201006/self-care-in-toxic-world
Polinsky, M.L., Pion-Berlin, L., Williams, S. (2010). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A National Evaluation of Parents Anonymous Groups. Child Welfare Journal, 89(6), 43-62.