Clayton Early Learning
26Mar/15Off

Speak Up for Kids: Advocacy in Action

Peter Blank

Posted by Peter Blank

By

Peter Blank

On March 18, Clayton Early Learning co-hosted the 4th annual Speak Up for Kids event at the Denver Art Museum and the State Capitol.  Together with the Colorado Children’s Campaign and Children’s Hospital Colorado, Clayton sponsored the event to prepare partners across the state to advocate for children and build confidence in engaging their legislators.  With great turnout and active participation, another successful Speak Up for Kids day is in the books!

The focus of the advocacy at Speak Up for Kids day this year was on supporting two generation strategies that promote self-sufficiency and student success. Specifically participants learned about House Bill 1194 and several funding bills for early learning that are currently being considered in the legislature. House Bill 1194 would authorize a $5 million state investment to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to continue an existing program that increases access to long acting reversible contraception as part of the CDPHE’s family planning efforts. This bi-partisan bill provides the opportunity to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion in Colorado, support the health and education of women and children, and reduce reliance on government programs.

The investment bills that were discussed by the advocates and their state legislators focused on access to preschool, full-day kindergarten, and affordable child care which are some of our most cost-effective strategies to supporting children and families. Current legislation that was highlighted included:

  • House Bill 1024 which would add 3,000 new slots for part time or full time preschool under the Colorado Preschool Program
  • House Bill 1020 which would improve funding for full day kindergarten and help districts expand their kindergarten facilities if needed
  • The School Finance Act which could likely include the expansions for the Colorado Preschool Program and Full Day Kindergarten
  • The Long Bill, or the legislature’s appropriations bill, which could include line item funding for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) including an increase to help with the implementation of the CCCAP revisions from last year

The legislation discussed during this year’s event is of great importance for all members of Clayton’s diverse family– from the policy advocates to parents and community members, to teachers and kids.  Sena Harjo, a community based Child Family Educator and two year member on the planning committee for Speak Up for Kids believes that the event “… gives parents and families an opportunity to speak up for kids and have their voices heard at the hill.”  She also thinks that “…it gives the parents a chance to see how policy trickles down from the capitol to affect their daily lives.”  Speak Up for Kids also offered a setting for Buell Early Childhood Leaders alumni and current cohort participants to come together to network, practice their advocacy roles, and even serve as advocacy coaches.  There were 17 registered Buell leaders for this year’s event!

Each one of these unique perspectives is not only evidence of the breadth of work at Clayton, but also highlights how many people are positively affected by the continued advocacy demonstrated at this year’s Speak Up for Kids event.

It is important to keep in mind that this advocacy work doesn’t end with the Speak Up for Kids event – there is more work to do!  All voices were welcomed at the event and everyone is encouraged to continue advocating for kids.

If you want to get involved and advocate on behalf of children in Colorado you can:

  • Call and email your legislators. Reach out and share your thoughts on this year’s legislation.  Everyone is welcome and encouraged to reach out and express their opinions with their legislators. Click here to find your legislators’ contact information.
  • Testify in a committee hearing. If you have a passion for a particular piece of legislation or issue, you can testify at a committee hearing. To testify you just need to show up at the specific committee hearing for each piece of legislation and sign up.   A calendar of the Senate committee hearings can be found here.  A calendar of House committee hearings can be found here.  More information on testifying at committee hearings can be found here.
  • Sign up for KidsFLash! KidsFlash is a weekly e-newsletter from the Colorado Children’s Campaign that offers helpful analysis and discussions on all things kids, including legislation and advocacy. You can sign up for KidsFlash here or by visiting the Colorado Children’s Campaign website.

 

On the Steps of the State Capitol [Image Source: Colorado Children's Campaign]

On the Steps of the State Capitol [Image Source: Colorado Children's Campaign]

 

Questions?

Contact Lauren Heintz, Policy Specialist at Clayton Early Learning, for more information or assistance on getting involved in the advocacy process. Email: LHeintz@claytonearlylearning.org. Phone: 303-393-5623.

 

 

Links:

13Mar/15Off

Do You ‘Eat a Rainbow’ Everyday? March is the Month to Start!

By

Kristen Wilford-Adams

Clayton’s Health and Disabilities Specialist, Kristin Wilford-Adams, welcomes our readers to celebrate National Nutrition Month by ‘eating a rainbow’:

today i ate a rainbow dot com

March is National Nutrition Month and the Clayton Community is celebrating by “Biting into a Healthy Lifestyle”. Clayton staff and families want to encourage everyone to enjoy all the wonderful colors, textures, and flavors that eating nutritious and delicious whole foods provides. So let’s all challenge ourselves not only this month but every month to eat as many bright and colorful fruits and vegetable as possible…let’s try and Eat the Rainbow!

Have you ever asked yourself why there are so many songs about rainbows? Because they're amazing and beautiful—not just in the sky, but also on the dining table! "Eating a rainbow" helps your body get a complete range of nutrients and can also make mealtime more enjoyable for even the pickiest of eaters. Wondering what it means to “eat a rainbow” or not sure how to do this at home?  Here are some easy steps and reminders to help make every plate as colorful as possible:

  • When meal planning and grocery shopping, try to choose a variety of different colored whole foods to eat throughout the day and week. The most colorful fruits and vegetables are also the most nutrient dense! Looking for an easy, colorful and nutritious snack? Try carrots, broccoli, or red bell peppers with hummus or Greek yogurt dressing. Yum!
  • The more naturally occurring colors on your plate at each meal or snack, the better. Creative use of color on your plate can turn revive your interest in traditional foods. Try reviving your old salad recipe by adding ingredients like strawberries or substitute iceberg lettuce for a more flavorful and nourishing green like arugula or romaine lettuce.
  • Remember artificial colors and dyes found in many processed foods are not a healthful way to incorporate color onto your plate. These foods are mostly comprised of empty calories and have very little nutritional value. Steer clear of candy, juice, soda and fruit flavored snacks so that you can enjoy the natural flavors, vitamins and minerals that whole fruits and vegetables have to offer.

Eating the Rainbow and Biting into a Healthy Lifestyle can give us infinite amounts of energy, keep our bodies healthy, and our minds happy. Here’s to the most wonderful time of the year…NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH!Health-Benefits-of-Eating-a-Rainbow

 

We want to know what your favorite ‘rainbow recipes’ are! Tell us how you and your family ‘eat the rainbow’ at home in the comments below.

11Mar/15Off

Considering Homemade Baby Food? Here are Some of the Perks…

By

Candice Leary-Humphrey

Candice Leary-Humphrey

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 anN I H Medline plus dot comd 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.baby food

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:

http://www.babycenter.com/0_age-by-age-guide-to-feeding-your-baby_1400680.bc

http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_newborn/feeding/feed47m.html

For unique and nutritious recipes and guidance for getting started, click on these links:

http://www.homemade-baby-food-recipes.com/pureed-baby-food-recipes.html

http://wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com/combos.html

 

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!

1Feb/15Off

4 Everyday Activities that Promote Early Language and Literacy Development in Young Children

By

Candice Leary-Humphrey

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!

17Dec/14Off

Amazing DIY Toys for Young Children

By

Candice Leary-Humphrey
Add pictures to blocks that will draw your baby's interest, stimulate language development and inspire new ways to play with an old classic!

Add pictures to blocks that will draw your baby's interest, stimulate language development and inspire new ways to play with an old classic!

 

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! 

 

Picture Blocks

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.

Exploration Bottles

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!

 

17Sep/14Off

Simple Strategies to Support your Student’s Success this School Year

By

Candice Leary-Humphrey

Candice Leary-Humphrey

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?
29Jul/14Off

Play and Learn: A Unique Approach to School Readiness

Posted by Molly Yost

By

Molly Yost

Peter Blank, of the Clayton Early Learning Social Media Team, sat down with Clayton Institute Play and Learn facilitators, Anitra Cortez, Josefina Gutierrez, and Patty Hernandez, to learn more about this exciting project and how it works to promote early childhood development with parents and children birth to three.

Social Media Team (SM): To start, can you give us a brief overview of Play and Learn?

Play and Learn facilitators (PL): Play and Learn is a free program for families with children birth to three that consists of adult-child activity sessions, which meet twice a week to focus on themes in early childhood development.

SM: How many different program groups exist? And where are they found?

PL: There are six groups overall. Clayton Early Learning facilitates four different Play and Learn groups and our collaborating partner, Mile High Montessori, helps to facilitate two more.  The groups meet at our main campus in the Institute (3993 Martin Luther King Blvd.), our school at Far Northeast (4800 Telluride St), City of God Church in Southwest Denver (5255 W. Warren Ave), Quigg Newton Homes (4558 Navajo St) and the Mile High Montessori centers in Lowry (957 Ulster Way) and Northeast (3503 Marion St).

SM: Wow, you guys sure are busy. What does a typical activity session look like?

PL:  Each session is two hours long and has a set schedule. The schedule for the sessions includes free play, group time with music and movement, parent/child reading, outdoor play, snack and more.  Although these schedules are the same for each group, every activity and session can vary based on the interest and needs of the children.  Also, information from the sessions is expanded during monthly parent meetings focusing on specific child development and parenting topics.

SM: You cover a lot of material in just two hours! What are some of the goals during these sessions and for Play and Learn overall?

PL: The primary goal of Play and Learn is to prepare children and families for school success. We do this by increasing access to early childhood development information and linking our participants to the school community and other community resources.  We’ve also seen that a high percentage of participating families enroll their children in high quality preschool programs in the year before Kindergarten.

SM: Sounds like a great way to address school readiness.  When did this program start?

PL: Clayton first received funding for three initial groups to begin during the 2010-2011 school year, so we are entering our 5th year.  Over the years we have been able to add three more Play and Learn groups with the help of collaborating partners and more funding.

SM: Happy 5 year anniversary!Josefina, you started as a Play and Learn participant and now facilitate the group at Quigg Newton.  Can you share with us how you got there?

JG: I started bringing my daughter to the new Play and Learn group at Quigg Newton and after a few months a position opened up for facilitator of that group.  I have over 15 years of experience working in early childhood education with groups like AmeriCorps and Catholic Charities and have both my group leader and director certifications. When the position opened up, I decided to apply.

SM: I’m glad you can continue using your professional experience in Early Childhood Education to help facilitate this great program.  I have a few more questions before we finish.  First,can anyone join a Play and Learn group? And second, how can you get more information about openings and joining a group?

PL: Our target population is low-income families of children 0-3 who either can’t access or choose not to enroll their children in formal early childhood education programs.  If you want more information on how to enroll or if you are eligible you can call Patty Hernandez at 303-398-8566.

SM: That’s all the questions we have for now.  Thank you all for your hard work and taking the time to share more about Play and Learn!

Do you have or care for a child birth to three years old? Our Play and Learn groups have openings and could be right for you! Call Patty for more information and to find the group nearest you – 303-398-8566.

Do you have or care for a child birth to three years old? Our Play and Learn groups have openings and could be right for you! Call Patty for more information and to find the group nearest you – 303-398-8566.

12Mar/14Off

Kids Love Yoga! You Will Too!

Erin Jamieson

Posted by Erin Jamieson

By

Erin Jamieson

Earlier this month, after a string of cold ‘inside’ days, I sat back at the end of the day and watched my four year old daughter fidget her way onto the couch, off of the couch, onto the chair, to the floor and back onto the couch. She then repeated this little course about six times in the span of five minutes. As I watched her wiggle around, I fought the urge to tell her, “Just calm down and sit still for one minute!” I’ve gone that route before, and as you probably know, it almost never works.
To a parent or teacher of young children, the cold days of winter and early spring can be long and challenging. Without the ability to get outside and burn some energy, young kids can get jittery and distracted, sensitive, hyper, and unfocused. If we aren’t careful, this kind of behavior can make us grown-ups impatient and frustrated as well. So, what can we do to get through the coldest months of the year without driving ourselves or our children nuts? Well, I can tell you that there is no magical, one-step fix; meeting a young child’s mental, physical, emotional, and social needs requires a vast tool-kit. However, there is one activity that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, that can also help to release pent-up energy and stress, as well as increase our health and general well-being: Try yoga!

Games and activities based in the ancient practice of yoga are showing up in classrooms, gymnasiums, living rooms and locker rooms all over our country in recent years, with remarkable results for the children who practice them. Simple yoga poses increase physical strength, flexibility, and balance, and other yoga techniques like deep breathing and positive imagery can help to relieve feelings of restlessness, frustration, anxiety, and imbalance not just in children, but in their parents and caretakers too.

Yoga is good for Kids!
Children need to move their bodies. When they can’t get outside and run around, they will find a way to move - wandering, fidgeting, squirming, or rough-housing. Yoga offers a structured way for kids to burn off some energy as well as to focus their attention on a motor activity. The postures of yoga are almost all based in nature, and children can easily achieve the ‘shape’ of a tree, an ape, a snake, or a cat, which in turn helps to improve their confidence, balance, and coordination. Children not only have fun playing games based on yoga poses but also enjoy taking on the challenge of trying new things!
Another huge benefit that yoga offers is reduction in stress and anxiety. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, children feel stress. Demanding schedules, over-exposure to media, pressure to make friends and feel successful at school are all things that contribute to high stress levels among our nation’s children, and they need tools with which to manage it. Creative movement gives children an outlet through which they can express confusing or complex feelings such as anxiety. Deep breathing, a cornerstone of the practice of yoga, helps to strengthen the body’s immune, regulatory, and nervous systems, which helps to calm the body and the mind. When kids feel less stress, they enjoy a more relaxed state of being, increased focus and concentration, better body awareness, and an overall boost in self –esteem.
Another aspect still of the practice is visualization. Children naturally have an active and robust imagination. By gently guiding their thoughts using peaceful and positive imagery, we can help to promote further relaxation and ease among our kids. This kind of activity supports children in self-regulation, meaning they become better at managing their own behavior and emotions. Helping children to access a ‘happy place’ within their imagination can help them deal more effectively with their real-life problems.

Yoga is good for Adults!
Adults enjoy and benefit from yoga for many of the same reasons children do – stress-relief, increased ability to concentrate and focus, and deeper feelings of relaxation. The additional benefits which apply to adults who practice yoga, even a very simple practice, are compelling.
As we move through life from cars to desks to meeting rooms to couches, adults loose strength and muscular flexibility pretty easily. Even adults who are highly active, moving from bicycles to soccer fields to gymnasiums can discover that their bodies are stiff and inflexible though strong. The unique movements and postures of yoga address the whole body, stretching large muscle groups such as those that support the spine and low back, as well as challenging muscle groups which we don’t necessarily access in our day-to-day activities. Adults who practice yoga discover increased strength and flexibility in their bodies, and a decrease in sports-related injuries. And contrary to popular belief, you DO NOT need to be flexible to practice yoga!
Beyond stress-relief, adults who practice yoga can actually decrease their risks for stress related illness such as chronic headaches, hypertension, and heart disease. There is even evidence of decreased feeling of depression and fatigue among adults who practice yoga regularly. When we, as adults, can more effectively manage our stress and tension, the children around us automatically feel less stress and tension. A teacher or parent who can deal effectively with their own stress is not only a great role model for the children they interact with, but is a more patient, more emotionally available caregiver to those children.
And lastly, yoga gets us to breathe. This might sound silly in its simplicity, but it is far from silly. In our busy adult lives we spend our time thinking about bills, work, family, money, meals, childcare, planning for holidays, and more bills. We worry about putting our best foot forward upon many different avenues of life simultaneously; we wonder if we’re doing all of this as well as our friends and neighbors, we worry that we can’t possibly live up to the expectations others might have of us. Our minds can move non-stop; much in the same way we see our youngsters move their bodies non-stop when they don’t get a chance to play outside. By focusing your attention on something as simple and easy as 10 deep breaths, you will give your busy mind a ‘recess’ from the pressure and complexity it deals with every day. And you’ll feel good!
Simple Yoga Activities to Try With Your Children

Flower Breath/Birthday Breath flower
-Close your eyes. Imagine it’ spring, and you’re in a huge field of flowers. Any type of flowers you’d like. Now, bend over and pick a flower. Take a long, deep inhale, smell your flower. Gently exhale. Try again, collect as many flowers as you’d like!
-With eyes still closed, let’s have an imaginary birthday party! How many candles are on your cake? Get ready to blow them out, taking a big inhale…. And like the Big Bad Wolf, blow all of your candles out! Repeat, try blowing out more candles next time! How will you blow out your birthday candles when you turn 90?
Seed to Tree
Come to your hands and knees. Shift you seat relax back toward your heels, letting your forehead relax on or close to the floor. Arms are either extended on the floor above the crown of your head or relaxed Treedown with wrists near your hips. Most importantly, get comfortable. Imagine you are a seed. Take a few moments to feel yourself getting heavy, sinking into the cool, moist earth.

Then, as the seed gets ‘watered’, slowly allow yourself to grow. Move like a small plant sprouting and growing, very slowly and quietly. Breathe deeply as you grow from seed to stalk to tree, from hands and knees roll the spine slowly up to standing. From a standing position, extend your branches outward and upward.Finally, take one foot off the floor and gently place it on the inner shin or ankle of your standing leg. Stand tall and breathe deep, you are a tall, majestic tree!Take turns, allowing one person to pretend to water the seed and the other person to grow into a tree.
Legs up the Wall
Time for a challenge! Get your body into a capital letter ‘L’, with legs going straight up the wall and torso, head and shoulders lying on the floor.
Try reading a book with your kids this way! Try taking some time in this pose before bedtime or naptime, or when your back or shoulders feel tired.
Now there is nothing left for you to do but go for it! You and your kids will be glad you tried a fun new activity together!
Want more?
Denver is a community that is rich in yoga resources! See Radiant Beginnings Yoga, www.radiantbeginningsyoga.com or Yoga for Young Warriors, www.yogaforyoungwarriors.com to learn more about kids’ yoga programs in our community.
For more ideas about how to integrate yoga into your home or classroom routine, check out www.yogainmyschool.com.
Yoga Journal, www.yogajournal.com has a wealth of information about yoga in general, including several resources related to kids and family yoga.
In addition, this spring, Erin Jamieson will be offering drop-in yoga sessions to the Preschool classrooms at Clayton Early Learning and at Clayton Z-Place to those teachers who are interested! A family yoga class may also be on the calendar in the spring of 2014! Stay tuned, and please, speak up if interested!

17Dec/13Off

Culture Night at Clayton Early Learning Schools

By

Kelsy Petersen-Hardie

It is that time of year again for Culture Night, a special night that gives the schools of Clayton Early Learning a chance to celebrate culture in a meaningful way with staff, families, young children, and community members.  Each year we strive to offer an experience that is not only fun, but one that provides opportunities for young children and their caring adults to learn about and reflect on their own culture, as well as a chance to come together to celebrate as a community.  This year the planning committee got excited about delving deeper into an aspect of culture that all groups share.  Families and staff voted for their favorite cultural element from a long list of topics and music was nominated as the focus this year.

In reflecting on what music means from my cultural lens, I had visions of my facabinmily gathered together listening to old country western records as my grandpa took turns dancing the grandchildren all around the living room of my family’s cabin, a crackling fire in the background.  Images of practicing my violin and choreographing dance moves to Paula Abdul flooded my mind.  Music played a part in all special events I can recollect, like weddings, parties, and funerals.

When we talk about culture from a theoretical perspective, we lose children and adults alike. Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t have a culture” or “I don’t know what my culture is”?  Culture is experienced every moment of every day, but we don’t necessarily recognize that we are living it because we are IN it.

I wanted to understand culture from my six year old daughter’s perspective so I asked her what she thinks about when she thinks of music.  She then gave me a laundry list of what music means from her cultural lens:  music as a school special, old country western records like Johnny Cash (that’s my girl!), music that people dance to, music from the Nutcracker, the rhythm and beats of jazz (she then proceeded to demonstrate the different tempos of jazz, illustrating the different lengths of notes with her stuffed animal collection).  There you have it, from the eyes of a young child.  Culture is lived.  Culture comes from experiences.  Culture is shared among people.  The special people in our lives touch us with these experiences, forever shaping our cultural lens.

What musical memories made the biggest impact on your life? What do you think about when you think of music’s impact in your family?

We hope you will join us at Clayton Early Learning’s Culture Night as we share the musical cultures of our staff, families and community, as well as engage in experiences that create new cultural memories among our children and our learning community.

Culture Night 2013:

Join us for an evening of celebrating culture through music as you mingle throughout the rooms, experiencing the movement, sights, and sounds of our School Family!

Tuesday, 12/17 from 5:30-7:00 P.M. at the Far Northeast Campus

Thursday, 12/19 from 5:30-7:00 P.M. at the Near Northeast Campus

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Would you like to join our Blog conversation? How do you celebrate culture in your community? If so, you can leave your statement in the Comment section at the bottom of this blog.

12Dec/13Off

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela: His Legacy of Walking in Cultural Humility

Shant'a Johnson

Posted by Shant'a Johnson

By

Shant'a Johnson

It is fitting to use this space and time to honor and celebrate the life of one of the world’s most influential and courageous leaders of whom we have recently lost-Nelson Mandela.  Mandela, a South-African anti-apartheid activist and revolutionary, also served as the first black South-African President from 1994 to 1999.

Over the past week, as I viewed news clips of his life and legacy, one theme continued to shine through about who he was and the life and work that he lived.  It was his legacy of forgiveness and resiliency.  This legacy is one that many of those on either side of the former apartheid system attributed publicly to being the unifying factor of the 52,981,991 people who live in South Africa today.  Being an African-American female in the U.S., who still feels the impact of racism, classism, and gender inequality; I am thankful to have an example such as Mandela to look to as I journey and grow towards cultural humility.

You might be asking, what is cultural humility and what does this have to do Nelson Mandela?  Cultural humility, is a concept first birthed out of the health field to address the issue of lack of patient compliance to doctor prescribed treatment.  In the article Cultural Humility versus Cultural Competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education, cultural humility is defined as being:

“A lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and critique, to redressing the power imbalances… and to developing mutually beneficial and non-paternalistic partnerships with communities on behalf of individuals and defined populations” (Tervalon, 123).

A young African American boy immitating a picture Nelson Mandela's raised fist during a speachMandela’s legacy embodies the very essence of cultural humility and its standing principles.  One standing principle that I feel reflects the life and legacy of Mandela is that of self-reflection and the life-long learner model.  Mandela states, “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself.  You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”

This principle deems it “imperative that there be a simultaneous process of self-reflection (realistic and on-going self-appraisal) and commitment to a lifelong learning process” (Tervalon, 119).  One must first be willing to “consciously think about their own, often ill-defined and multidimensional cultural identities and backgrounds” (Tervalon, 120).

Mandela is characterized as a highly self-reflective individual, he shows what he has learned about himself and accepted through the following quotes:

“I am fundamentally an optimist.   Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say.  Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.  There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.  That way lays defeat and death.”

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find ways in which you yourself have altered”

We also can see Mandela’s process of letting go and forgiving in the following quote, as he reflects upon being released after serving over 27 years in prison, due to his involvement in anti-apartheid activism, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”

Mandela, with a firm foundation of understanding who he was, and the strength to accept what came, changed the course of a nation’s history and impacted the world.  If we were to take a closer look at his life’s journey, we can see one who lived by the principle of self-reflection and the lifelong learner model, allowing his life’s tragic events to transform him from being not only an influential activist against the apartheid, but also an advocate for the cause of peace on behalf of all.

In conclusion, let us all be challenged to take more time to self-reflect and accept what comes, using it to strengthen ourselves and others in this journey called life.  Together, we can have a hand in helping to shape the future for those little ones who will follow.

References:

Tervalon, M., Murray- García, J. Cultural Humility versus Cultural Competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education.  Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved; May 1998; 9,2; Research Library pg. 117.

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/278812-as-i-walked-out-the-door-toward-the-gate-that

http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/367338.Nelson_Mandela