Clayton Early Learning

Why is Handwashing Important?

Brenda Hoge

Posted by Brenda Hoge


Brenda Hoge

“When handwashing is done correctly by children and adults - there can be a 17% reduction in respiratory infections for young children This translates to preventing more than 100,000 colds per year.


What is the issue?

One of the most commonly missed indicators on the Environment Rating scales is using proper handwashing techniques for children and teachers.  We hear from many teachers that they are spending most of their day washing hands. They say that following the proper procedures are “impossible.” We want to clarify why handwashing is important and give some helpful tips about how to wash correctly.

Why is handwashing important?

Handwashing is the most important way to reduce the spread of infection. Many studies have shown that unwashed or improperly washed hands are the primary carriers of infections, particularly among infants and toddlers. Since many infected people carry communicable diseases without having symptoms and many are contagious before they experience a symptom, staff members need to protect themselves and the children they serve by carrying out hygienic procedures on a routine basis.

What does the research tell us?

HW1029Proper handwashing is extremely important for infants and toddlers. Research has shown that infants are especially vulnerable to infectious disease between 6 months and 9 months of age, when the protection of being in utero wears off. From that point, it takes until children are 2 years of age before their immune systems are fully functioning.

For preschoolers, studies have shown that deficiencies in handwashing have contributed to many outbreaks of diarrhea among children and caregivers in child care centers. In child care centers that have implemented a hand-washing training program, the incidence of diarrheal illness has decreased by 50%. Another study found that handwashing helped to reduce colds when frequent and proper handwashing practices were incorporated into a child care center's curriculum. Finally, when handwashing is done correctly by children and adults- there can be a 17% reduction in respiratory infections for young children. This translates to preventing more than 100,000 colds per year.

So why do we need to wash correctly?

The correct handwashing procedure is as follows: Hands must be wet first with warm water, which helps loosen soil, including infection-causing organisms. Next, soap must be applied. The soap lather also helps to loosen the soil and brings it into solution on the surface of the skin. To be effective, this process should take at least 20 seconds to complete. Hands must then be rinsed, which moves the lather off into the sink, as well as the soil from the hands that the soap brought into solution. Finally, hands must be dried with a single-service dispensed towel, which prohibits the spread of germs between children. Without these steps, potential infection-causing organisms will remain on the skin and then  those can be transferred between teachers and children.

So what are some helpful tips for carrying out these procedures?

  • The most important tip that teachers can use to teach children how to wash hands correctly is to role-model by washing their hands correctly. Often times it is the teachers who are not doing the procedures correctly, rather than the children. By being good role-models children understand not only how to wash but it emphasizes the importance of washing.
  • The second tip is to supervise children while they are washing. Children need to be reminded of the handwashing steps regardless of their age. The programs that are the most successful at handwashing are the programs that have the teachers supervising the procedures. This does not necessarily mean that teachers need to be at the sink with the children (although this is recommended for younger children and at the beginning of the school year), but that they are watching from wherever they are in the classroom and reminding children when steps are missed and praising them when it is done correctly.
  • One helpful tip that can help children remember the steps is to have a poster with pictures of a child (preferably one of the children in the class), performing each of the steps. This should be posted at all sinks that children and adults are using.  One school district made a story board out of the pictures, and children practiced which steps come first, next, etc.
  • Another tip for having children wash for 20 seconds is to have them sing a song.  Some popular songs that are used are“Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “ABC song,” and “Happy Birthday.” Feel free to have the children make up their own songs, or give them a list of songs that they can choose from.
  • Finally, if you are having trouble with the amount of time it takes to wash all of the children’s hands during transitions, one way you can do it is to wash as a group. One of our home providers came up with putting water in a spray bottle which she then sprays onto the children’s hands (hands are wet step). She then applies dispenser soap to each child’s hands, and they sing a song together as a group (soap and 20 sec. step is met). She then has them line up at the sink and they rinse their hands under running water (rinse step). Then they dry their hands with a paper towel (dry step). This process is very quick and it eliminates a lot of the issues of children waiting at the table and in line for a long amount of time.

So can handwashing be done correctly?

Yes, it can. It just takes some creativity (like what was mentioned above), some persistence, and some supervision. One thing to remember is that if children and teachers are absent because they are sick, the children are not learning. So it really is worth taking the time and effort to make sure that handwashing is done correctly.


American Academy of Pediatrics, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care (U.S.), American Public Health Association, & United States (2002). Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards : guidelines for out-of-home child care (2nd ed.). Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Hawks, D., Ascheim, J., Giebink, G. S., & Solnit, A. J. (1994). Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards-Guidelines for out-of-home care. American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, & National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care.

Krapp, K., Wilson, J., & Thomas, G. (2005). Immune System Development. In Encyclopedia of Children's Health.

Roberts, L., Smith, W., Jorm, L., Patel, M., Douglas, R. M., & McGilchrist, C. (2000). Effect of Infection Control Measures on the Frequency of Upper Respiratory Infection in Child Care: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Pediatrics. doi:10.1542/peds.105.4.738-42.

Niffenegger, J. P. (1997). Proper handwashing promotes wellness in child care. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. doi:10.1016/S0891-5245(97)90141-3 11: 26-31

Wald, E., Dashefsky, B., Byers, C., Guerra, N., & Taylor, F.(1988). Frequency and severity of infections in day care. Journal of Pediatrics. doi:10.1016/S0022-3476(88)80164-1 -112:540-546


Clayton Early Learning vs. Food Insecurity: Opportunities for a Healthy Lifestyle

Sena Harjo

Posted by Sena Harjo


Sena Harjo

Food is crucial for development in any age of people. Babies and young children need nutrition in order to assist their bodies in developing the strength, ability and cognitive processing that will carry them into many years of joy and learning.  Watermelon on the vineElementary age children and teens need nutrition to keep their bodies and minds growing, changing and transforming into the amazing adults that will create new beginnings within in our communities and in families of their own. And adults and elders need nutrition in order to maintain healthy lifestyles and to be able to engage and interact in their world to the best of their ability. As important as fresh food and healthy choices are, we at Clayton Early Learning have found that for many of our families, food insecurity is a persistent concern and stress in their everyday lives.

1015-strawDuring the 2012-2013 school year, Clayton surveyed parents about whether they were able to afford all of the food they need for their families. Families were asked questions like: How frequently are you anxious about running out of food? How often does the food run out before you have money to purchase more? What we found was that many of our families are facing some very difficult circumstances.  47.1% of our families worry about running out of food regularly and 35.6% of families are regularly facing empty cabinets at mealtimes. For our families this means over a third of our students are going without food at home from day to day.

So what is Clayton Early Learning doing about it?

1015-eggPFirst of all, Clayton Early Learning is making sure to consistently provide exciting healthy and fresh meals and snacks to the students enrolled in the many different program options that we serve. We also have a nutrition staff to support families who have questions and situations needing dietary supports. We cultivate two on-campus gardens to provide produce used in the kitchen, as learning opportunities’ for the classrooms and in fundraising opportunities’ for the programs. Also, throughout the year we offer Cooking Matters classes, where families can sign up to learn how to prepare healthy meals at home. Clayton’s new initiative, however, connects the learning from the classrooms into a service model, while offering a connection to fresh vegetables and fruits. Clayton will be having their very first Youth Farmer’s Market right on the Clayton campus!

This October 23rd from 2:30pm to 4:30pm the students and families of Clayton Early Learning will be running a fresh produce market where families, staff, and the community will have access to low cost fresh produce. Patrons will be able to purchase a variety of items promoting a yummy, healthy lifestyle.   We will be selling carrots, chilies, cucumbers, onions, jalapenos, red potatoes, squash, pears and apples!

Corn on the stalkWe invite you to come and join in the conversation about food resources and healthy options in our community.  The staff and families at Clayton Early Learning are invested in creating the best outcomes possible for our children and communities. We look forward to seeing you there!

Youth Farmer’s Market
Time and Location:

Date: October 23, 2013
2:30pm - 4:30pm
Clayton Early Learning (school parking lot)
3751 Martin Luther King Blvd.
Denver, CO 80205

Resources: Images courtesy of Sena Harjo.


We Believe—Beginning Our Work from Why

Social Media Team


Social Media Team

The Clayton Early Learning Blog Team has multiple goals—(1) To educate and inform our community about critical early childhood issues, (2) To generate new ideas and increase our knowledge through the process of writing, and (3) To build connections with each other and our community. In light of these goals, this team has recently begun using short video provocations to spark new ideas and connections during our monthly meetings.

During our August meeting, we viewed the TED Talk by Simon Sinek on How Great Leaders Inspire Action Simon Sinek argues the reason why some organizations are more successful as a leader in their industry (i.e. Apple Inc.) is because they follow a different formula for communication about their organization than the rest of us. They talk about what they believe first, then how they translate their belief into a product or service, and last about what it is they are offering at that moment. Sinek believes that we often begin our communications with what we are offering, and miss opportunities to inspire ourselves and others. When we start with why we are there in the first place, our passion for our work becomes evident and other people get excited and want to join our cause.

Through discussion, the team was inspired to think of our own “I believe” statements to communicate why each of us work at Clayton Early Learning and how our belief drives the type of work we do every day. Below are four “I believe” statements from members of the Blog Team:

Healthy familyKelsey Petersen-Hardie, Mentor Coach, Education & Early Childhood Services

I believe we can positively impact the ill effects that poverty and toxic stress have on children and families and that if we begin when a child is young, we see better results. Because I believe this, I work in the field of Early Childhood Education. When young children receive high quality and responsive care and families receive support that is needed, children and families can experience better outcomes.


Wendy Allen, Buell Leaders Alumni Network Coordinator

Leadership wordleI believe all people are born with the capacity to learn and that this capacity should be supported and utilized to the fullest across the lifespan. Because I believe this, I work to enhance the learning experiences of adults serving as leaders across our system of care and education for young children. The Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program and Alumni Network is an opportunity to transform how individuals, programs, and communities support and utilize their own learning capacities.


Nathan Pope, Research and Evaluation Program Associate

research and evaluationI believe that all children are capable of greatness and desire to be challenged. Because I believe this, I use research and evaluation to understand each child’s strengths and provide feedback to support the work teachers do in their classrooms. Research studies at Clayton Early Learning use data to connect the research, practice, and training loop so children reach their full potential.


Cheryl Comstock, Instructional Technology Manager


I believe that anyone willing deserves a chance at a good education, and that technology is one of the most important tools available to us within our educational spaces. Because I believe this, I am here to help Clayton Early Learning move forward into new and innovative spaces that embrace technology for education. Clayton Early Learning now has a thriving Blog, growing Facebook Page, and we are exploring how to incorporate online professional development opportunities for the communities in which we work and serve.

The Blog Team believes that social media, including blogging, is a new tool to support learning across communities. By embracing this new technology and form of connection, Clayton Early Learning is inviting our community to band together as we do the critical work of early care and education.


Would you like to join our Blog conversation? What is your “I Believe” Statement? If so, you can leave your statement in the Comment section at the bottom of this blog.


Images found online September 3, 2013, at

Seamless Pattern Of Flower Illustration Background Stock Image courtesy of Sicha Pongjivanich/


Mixed Company: Preparing ALL Children for School – repost from 8/2012

Rebecca Soden

Posted by Rebecca Soden


Rebecca Soden

Are you a parent or grandparent looking for a quality preschool experience for your child? Great news! Our high quality NAEYC Accredited school here at Clayton Early Learning would like to announce that we now have a limited number of preschool openings available for tuition-based children.

This might be news to some folks in our community who have known Clayton as a program that primarily serves low-income children and families. We recognize that this is a shift from how we have traditionally gone about improving educational opportunities within our local neighborhoods. We want to take a moment to highlight a few of the reasons WHY we are making a change to serve tuition-based families and how YOU can help us to create a future where all children are prepared for success in school and in life.

Why Are Mixed Income Preschool Classrooms Good for Kids?
Here at Clayton, we are always striving for evidence-based practices. We want to be doing the kinds of things that we know are related to better opportunities for children down the road. As universal access to preschool becomes more common across the nation, we have more evidence to help us understand the value that economic integration has for children’s school readiness. Data has been mounting for years that quality early learning experiences (especially literacy building experience that teach vocabulary and expressive language skills) help to prepare children for reading success down the road. Studies that have looked deeply at this issue have found some preliminary evidence that economic integration within preschool classrooms can lead to stronger language skills for ALL children.

  • Low Income Children – After just one year of preschool, low-income children in economically integrated classrooms moved from below the national norm (93) on language scores to above the national norm (101) while children in the low-income only classrooms were still well below the national norm in the spring (Schechter & Bye, 2007). Classroom quality was high within all of these preschool rooms suggesting that learning alongside peers from different economic backgrounds might have played a role in these gains.
  • Middle and Upper Income Children – Gains in the mixed-income classrooms were similarly strong for children who were coming from more affluent homes. The great news is that ALL children benefited, not just low-income children (Schechter & Bye, 2007).

Another reason that we are striving for economic integration is because we are working with families to gain upward economic mobility. As families in our program achieve their goals and their income levels increase, we want to provide avenues for children to stay at our school with the continuity of care that we are so committed to providing. Offering a tuition-based preschool option is one more way that we are trying to meet the needs of our families and our community.

How Can You Help?

Give the gift of high quality learning to your child. We want our preschool to be full when the new school year begins. We want every preschool child (low, middle and upper income) within Northeast Denver to have a quality early learning experience and to be fully prepared for success in Kindergarten. Please take a moment and complete an Interest Form online or call us at 303-355-4411.


Why is Block Play Important for Toddlers and Preschoolers? What are they learning?



Building with blocks provides one of the most valuable learning experiences available for young children.  Block play stimulates learning in all domains of development, intellectual, physical, and social-emotional and language.  The current research shows that block play is fundamental for later cognitive success for learning math and numbers.  In a research study, “Block Play Performance among Preschoolers as a Predictor of Later School Achievement in Mathematics”, published in the Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education, the researchers proved that children who play with blocks when they are three, four and fives years of age will do better in math, especially Algebra in middle school.

The progression of block play and concepts learned

Toddler playing with colored blocksThere is a natural progression of block play and introducing infants and toddlers to block play is invaluable.

Toddlers- When toddlers are first introduced to blocks they may learn how to hold on to them, how they feel, how heavy they are, they explore the bright colors, and begin to carry them around.  They will experiment with how blocks may sound when they fall, or when they bang them together.  Soon toddlers are learning cause and effect as they are filling and dumping, stacking, knocking down and laying blocks side by side on the floor.  Concepts such as learning sizes, comparing objects by making exact matches and the order of objects are also being learned.  Socially, block play contributes to their developing self confidence, for example as they learn how to stack blocks they are proud of their success and feel a sense of accomplishment.  Through block play a young child’s expressive and receptive language is being expanded by learning words such as “fill,” “dump,” “pick up,” “stack,” “balance,” “tall”, and “short.”

Three year old- Three year olds block play will look different as they move into a simple constructive type of play.   A three year old usually plays alone or near other children and are beginning to engage in pretend play.  They are starting to build enclosures that resemble zoos, farm pens, roads and castles.  They are learning concepts such as sorting, ordering, counting, one to one correspondence, size and shape.

Four and Five Year olds-At four and five children’s block play is more experienced, developed, balanced coordinated and organized.  Constructive play involves play that is more open- ended and exploratory.  Children begin to combine structures to make more complex buildings.  Socially, four and five year olds are beginning to share ideas and are starting to cooperate and build with others.  They may use block accessories such as people, transportation vehicles, and animals to engage in imaginary/ pretend play.  They are learning more complex patterns, classifying, sequencing, counting, fractions and problem solving.  According to article “Constructive Play” written by Walter Frew, “Block play shows the opportunity for conceptual understanding in the area of structural engineering as children explore forces of gravity, compression, tension and the relationship between materials and successful design to achieve balance, stability, and even aesthetic sensibility.”

Preschoolers are beginning to notice and explore more 3– dimensional objects such as cones, cylinders, cubes and prisms, (geometry). Science is also being learned through block play as children start making predictions, comparisons, experiment with cause and effect, stability and balance.  Their vocabulary is also expanded by block play as they develop an understanding of spatial relations and words such as “under,” “over,” “off,” “bottom,” “top,” “through,” and “beside.”

What type of environment and materials are needed to encourage block play?

Toddler Environment- Block play should be set up in an area that is free from other distractions and out of traffic.  The type of blocks needed in meet the Environment Rating Scale for Infants and Toddlers – Revised Edition, should be non-interlocking and at least 2 inches by 2 inches.  The ITERS-R tool suggests at least three sets of different types of blocks.  Each set should contain at least 10 blocks to allow the children enough to properly explore.  Accessories such as people, animals and transportation vehicles should also be available to expand play.  Types of blocks recommended are:

  • Light weight hollow brick blocks
  • Cardboard blocks
  • Fabric blocks
  • Hard and soft plastic
  • Homemade
  • Wooden and foam blocks

Preschool Environment- The space in a classroom for block play is critical since preschoolers will be doing more constructive play where larger complex structures are made, with larger sized blocks, and many children working together.  It is essential the block space is large enough to accommodate this type of play.  The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale – Revised Edition recommends the block play area should be big enough to allow at least three children to build sizable structures. Block play is more vigorous and louder than other areas in the classroom and should be located in a more active area of the classroom.  Many teachers locate the block area next to the dramatic play area since both areas encourage cooperative imaginary play.  The ECERS -R recommends the preschoolers have at least 2 different sets of blocks with 10-20 blocks in each set.  Types of blocks suggested:

  • Large hollow blocks, ramps, boards
  • Unit blocks (as many shapes and sizes as possible, wooden or foam)
  • Cardboard blocks
  • Blocks made from boxes or milk cartons, covered with cloth or contact-paper
  • Packing boxes Boards, sticks, logs, tree-stump rounds and stumps
  • Cardboard, metal, or plastic tubes

Accessories are also essential to allow children more imaginary play.  The blocks should be stored in low open labeled shelves.  The unit blocks should be labeled by shape to encourage organization, shape matching, and easy clean up.

Block play is also strongly encouraged outside as there is often times more room for children to build even larger structures.  The ECERS-R tool recommends a large flat surface, out of the way of traffic, with enough blocks and accessories for three children.

The teacher’s Role?

In the article, “Constructive Play” the authors suggest the teachers receive “Professional development experiences that feature hands on constructive play with open-ended materials.  Adults who engage in active inquiry and construct knowledge through creative exploration with materials are more positively disposed to encouraging children to do the same.”  The article goes on the say that teachers who play develop an understanding and appreciation of play!

Teachers who describe the children’s action while they are engaged in block play are helping the children develop receptive and expressive language.  Teachers who ask open ended questions encourage more conversation and opportunities to expand on the children’s thought process.  Encourage children to reason by asking  “reasoning type” questions, “ What will happen if you put that block on top?,” “Which row is bigger, which one is smaller?,” “How many blocks high is that structure?”  “Is that taller than your friend?”

The lessons learned in block play are fundamental to the growth and development of children.  It is an activity which should be a part of every child’s experience throughout the early years.


Walter Drew, James Christie, James Johnson, Alice Meckley, and Marcia Nell. July 2008, “Constructive Play” NAEYC Young Child, 38-44

Eugene Geist, May 2009, “Infants and Toddlers Exploring Mathematics” NAEYC Young Child, 39-41

Charles H. Wolfgang, Laura L. Stannard, Ithel Jones, Spring- Summer 2001, Block Play Performance Among Preschoolers As a Predictor of Later School Achievement in Mathematics”,Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Spring-Summer, 2001.  Retrieved July, 2 2009 from,

Thelma Harms, Debby Cryer, Cathy Riley, 2003, All About the ECERS- R, New York, NY: Kaplan Early Learning Company.

Thelma Harms, Debby Cryer, Cathy Riley, 2003, All About the ITERS-R, New York, NY: Kaplan Learning Company.


Remembering the Airplane Rule


Candice Leary-Humphrey

Mother providing oxygen to child on airplaneAnyone 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:

  1. 3 friends being together taking a pictureIntellectual 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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?

7-17-familyFor 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Re-connect with a friend or spouse over a lunch break.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

LeFebvre, J.E. (2010). Parent Self-Care. University of Washington Extension.

Meinecke, C. (2010). Self-care in a toxic world. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

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.


The Importance of Taking Infants and Toddlers Outdoors

Brenda Hoge

Posted by Brenda Hoge


Brenda Hoge

One of the more challenging criteria to meet on the Infant-Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised (ITERS-R) is taking infants and toddlers outdoors to play for an hour every day. We often hear from providers that “parents don’t want their infant outdoors because they’ll get sick” or that “there’s no time to take young children outside when there are so many routines and individualized schedules.” So why is it important to take infants and toddlers outdoors? How do you set up a safe outdoor environment for them? And finally, what do you do with them once you get them outdoors?

Importance of Outdoor Play

During the first few years of life, infants and toddlers are trying to make sense of their world. One of the ways they do this is by soaking up every noise, every sound, and every experience that they have. They then take this information and come up with ideas about how the world works. So, not only is being outdoors an enjoyable experience for infants and toddlers, it’s critical for cognitive development. During the first three years of life, brain synapses form at a rapid rate. These synapses are formed based on the richness of the child’s sensory environment. So, it would make sense that childcare providers would want to provide a stimulating environment for infants and toddlers, both indoors and outdoors. In addition, the knowledge they gain outdoors provides a foundation to literacy and science learning (Dewey, 1938/1963).

Outdoor experiential learning also promotes early language development. Having a rich sensory experience gives young children something to talk about. When an infant feels the leaves or the toddler notices the airplane in the sky, they are more inclined to verbalize this experience because it will elicit a favorable response by their caregivers.

This verbalization to others also promotes social development. Even infants, who do not have the ability to physically play with others, are able to watch others, which is the first step in social development (Oesterreich, 1995).

Outdoor Checklist for th Health Benefits of Outdoor Play

Finally, outdoor experiences are critical for infant and toddler physical development. According to Gabbard (1998), the “window of opportunity” for acquiring basic motor movements is   from prenatal to five years of age. During this time the brain gathers and stores information, and a solid foundation for movement activities is built. Infants need interesting things to look at from a horizontal and vertical position. They need materials and space to practice

crawling and things to pull up on, so that they can learn to walk. Toddlers need space and materials that will help them act out prepositions-over, under, on top of, inside, outside, behind, in front of, up, and down (Rivkin, 2000).

How to set up an Outdoor Play Environment

Infants and toddlers require constant supervision when they are outdoors. Because they are exploring their world, they often taste it first, which can result in more exposure to germs or to choking hazards. Therefore, it is necessary to make sure that all potential choking hazards are removed from the area and that caregivers are in close proximity to children so that they can remove unwanted objects from mouths.

Baby girl sitting on lawn areaInfants and toddlers also need a surface that will allow them to move around easily. This surface should be accessible to all children. It should be made of materials that will not get too hot in the summer or too icy in the winter. It should provide comfort, tactile experiences, and protect children when they fall. Because children are still mastering balance, there must be enough room to move without hitting a hard surface or sharp edges. The surfacing material should be around all equipment over 18 in. tall so that when children fall, it won’t cause any life-threatening head injuries or broken bones.

The outdoor equipment should challenge children, but should be based on realistic expectations about what children at this age can and cannot do. All anchored equipment should be designed for toddlers, based on the new ASTM F 2373-05 guidelines for children ages 6 months to 23 months. Many playground manufacturers are not aware of these new standards therefore, it is important to check with them before purchasing equipment. Also, keep in mind that young toddlers are just learning to walk. They do not need high equipment, ladders, or climbers because they haven’t mastered taking large steps. Walking across a low, wide bridge or balance beam is challenging to them. Playing with riding toys, trikes, wagons (where they can put other materials in it), and different sizes of balls are just as interesting as climbing onto a structure. For infants, providing grass, balls, push toys, tunnels, and a ramp for crawling is just as stimulating as having a slide or a baby swing.

“A playground should be like a small-scale replica of the world, with as many as possible of the sensory experiences to be found in the world included in it. Experiences for every sense are needed for instance: rough and smooth; objects to look at and feel; light and heavy things to pick up; water and wet   materials as well as dry things; cool materials and materials warmed by the sun; soft and hard surfaces; things that make sounds or that can be struck, plucked, plinked, etc.; smells of all varieties; shiny, bright objects and dull, dark ones; things both huge and tiny; high and low places to look at and from; materials of every type-natural, synthetic, thin, thick, and so on. The list is inexhaustible, and the larger the number of items that are included, the richer and more varied the environment for the child (Greenman, 1988).”

So what do you do with infants and toddlers outdoors?

Beyond the activities already mentioned, there are many interesting and fun experiences that you can provide for   both infants and toddlers outdoors.

For children 0-3 months:

Provide a blanket for the baby to lay on. Point out the leaves moving, let them feel the leaves or grass, and point out the nature sounds that they hear.

For children 3 months-6 months:

With the blanket, let the child explore on his/her stomach. Bring out objects to grasp, books, or activity gyms. Again, point out the things happening in nature and let them feel natural objects.

For children 6 months-9 months:

Create a texture path on the ground using assorted textures, such as carpet squares, rugs, grass, and resilient surfacing. The children can crawl along this path to explore large motor skills and sensory stimulation (Miller, 1989). Provide tunnels, balls, and safe sensory tubes.

For children 9 months-12 months:

Provide balls, bubbles, and toys that are sturdy enough for them to practice standing. For early walkers, provide simple push toys. Attach musical toys, activity centers, and mirrors to the fence at different levels for children who are still crawling and for children who are standing.

For toddlers: Continue to add more materials that reflect the variety of developmental skills. Bring out riding toys and trikes, wagons to pull, baby carriages with dolls, large trucks to push, etc. Bring some music outdoors so that children can practice dancing, jumping, and twirling outdoors. Set up simple games. The HAPPE  (High Autonomy Physical Play Environment), provides a great list of games for toddlers that can be played outdoors. Set up obstacle courses where toddlers can climb over and under material and walk a curved path. And finally, provide a garden outdoors so that children can learn about soil, plants, and insects.

So what about the weather and the parents?

The ITERS-R does require that infants and toddlers spend an hour a day outdoors, weather permitting. “Weather permitting” can be subject to interpretation of course. Thelma Harms, who is one of the authors of the Environment Rating Scales, often speaks of an old Swedish saying that says “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” If you travel to different sites across Colorado you will see this reflected on the Western slope where infants and toddlers are dressed in snow suits, gloves, hats, and boots to go outside in the winter. If the mountain communities waited until the weather was “appropriate,” they would only get to be outside from June-October.  The children are warm, happy, and excited to be outdoors. The only complaints are from the teachers who are often not dressed appropriately. Work with your parents on providing appropriate clothing for all kinds of weather and a change of clothes for when children   get dirty.  Also set up a clothing donation box so that parents, teachers, or other adults in the program can drop off winter clothing that no longer fits their child. You can then use that clothing for children who do not have extra warm winter clothes. Even if infants and toddlers are only out for 5 or 10 minutes because the weather is bad, it will help prevent illness and it will give them some of those sensory experiences that are so critical for their development.

Remember that the experiences that infants and toddlers have outdoors while they are in child-care, may in fact, be the only opportunity they have to really explore the outdoors. By taking infants and toddlers outdoors, you are providing wonderful opportunity and you are setting up a good model for parents to follow. If children learn to love being outdoors when they are young, it will make them healthier. It will also help ensure that they will take better care of our world when they are adults.


Dempsey, J.  (2005) Outdoor play and playgrounds for infants and toddlers [Electronic version]. Available online. Accessed October 18, 2007.

Dewey, J. (1938/1963). Experience and Education.  New York: Collier.

Gabbard, C. (1998). Windows of opportunity for early brain and motor development. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, Volume 69, pp. 54-55.

Greenman, J. (1988). Caring spaces, learning places. Children’s environments that work. Redmond, WA.: Exchange Press.

Harms, T., Cryer, D., and Clifford, R. (2006). Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised Edition. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Oesterreich, L. (1995). Ages & Stages-Newborn to 1 year [Electronic version]. In L. Oesterreich, B. Holt, & S. Karas, Iowa family child care handbook [Pm 1541] (pp 192-196). Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension.

Parish, L.E. and Rudisill, M.E. (2006).  HAPPE: Toddlers in physical play [Electronic version]. Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved October 18, 2007, from

Rivkin, M.S. (2000, December). Outdoor Experiences for young children [Electronic version]. ERIC Digest. Retrieved October 11, 2007, from (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 448013).


How do Men Impact Early Childhood Education?


Posted by SorenG



Member of MEC, male teacher reading to small childAs staff members of the Clayton organization, we often have one particular issue within the early childhood field that we are particular passionate about.  In my case it is providing support to males who work in Early Childhood Education. In working with this topic, I began to look into what resources were available for males who work in the ECE field. I found that within the Colorado area the resources that a male working in the ECE field could access were limited or non-existent. In 2011, I began the creation of an organization with three other male ECE professionals that would have an active presence for males working in the ECE field called Men in Early Childhood-Colorado (MEC)  The organization is committed to developing a network that provides support, advocacy, and education to in order to retain and to recruit additional males to work in the field.

Member of MEC, male teacher reading to small boyRecently, on June 1st, MEC held the 2013 Summer Conference at Clayton Early Learning. The conference began with a keynote address by Doug Gertner, The Grateful Dad, The keynote address was entitled, Understanding Men’s Lives: Theories of Masculinities, and the included the following discussions:What is it exactly that defines a man and makes masculinity distinct from the feminine? Why are men the way they are? These questions can inform the work of early childhood educators, both men and women, and help to encourage more men to enter this work, and more fathers to be involved in schools and classrooms. We’ll begin by examining several theories about male gender role development, review the major men’s movements, and seek a better understanding of male behavior, in order to deepen our ability to attract and support male teachers and serve fathers in our schools and centers.

Member of MEC, male teacher helping small girlDoug’s keynote provided some valuable insight into how we as an ECE community can continue to improve our ability to support males who work in ECE and of course, the fathers of the children in our programs. The remainder of the conference topics was ones that we are passionate individually as ECE professionals. We had a panel of three individuals (Andrew Goff, Ben Wilkins, and I).  Andrew spoke about Boys in the Classroom and provided some quick and easy tips and strategies to help with those energetic and active boys in the classroom. Andrew specifically spoke about utilizing the different learning styles of boys and how we can equate them with the different child development theories. Ben spoke about Technology in the classroom and provided the participants some hands-on examples about activities that they could do in their classrooms. He share with the group about items that he has in his classroom and appropriate applications for early childhood setting I spoke on how logical strategies to support men who work in the ECE field. We ended our time at the conference with a guided discussion about, “What does School Readiness Mean.” Being that the participants were primarily all from ECE backgrounds, we had many of the same ideas and thoughts behind this question.  The discussion revolved around how there is different aspects to school readiness. These aspects include cultural, academic, school setting, and home setting.  . With the conclusion of this discussion, our conference was over. It was a good time for all and we look forward to seeing you at our next conference or possibly assisting us with our fall music event for fathers. How would having a male ECE educator benefit your child or school?


Quality Suitcase: What Would You Bring? – Republished from 5/30/12

Brenda Hoge

Posted by Brenda Hoge


Brenda Hoge

The ERS (Environmental Rating Scales) Team at Clayton Early Learning is holding one of their bi-annual trainings here on campus this week. Because of this, it only seemed appropriate to republish Brenda Cobb-Hoge's blog on Early Childhood Classroom assessment from last spring.

From May, 2012

Assessing quality in Early Childhood Classrooms is not new to many of us in Colorado. We have been assessing quality in many of our classrooms and family childcare homes for over 12 years, primarily through the use of the Environment Rating Scales (ECERS-R, ITERS-R, FCCERS-R). As Colorado begins building a new version of the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), it’s important to reflect on what we have learned along the way – and what challenges remain. So as I think in terms of packing my “Quality Suitcase,” these are some of the things I would bring along on this next adventure:

The Importance of Training: One of the first things we’ve learned with our involvement using the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales (ERS) is that training before implementation is critical. Providing overview trainings for teachers, providers and Directors on the tools as well as more in-depth training for coaches was key to improving quality based on the tools because it gave everyone the “why” behind the indicators and assured everyone that they could pick and choose the indicators that they felt was important to implement in their program.

Coaching Support is Key: Another thing we learned along the way is the importance of coaches and their role in the “Improvement” part of this process. As some communities began using the Rating, their programs were getting money for materials based on their ERS scores but we weren’t really changing the quality. We also had TA services where someone would come in and help the program “get ready for the rating” which worked for the “month rating window” but it really didn’t help create lasting improvements. Centers and homes that have been provided with individualized coaching have focused on not just the “test” but rather on more introspection, goal-setting, and education, and again, quality in these programs has improved over time. As coaches have begun working with the Raters, it has become more of a unified support system for the program, which has been very beneficial.

Reliability equals trust: The third thing we’ve learned along the way is how important it is to have a reliability system for our Quality Ratings. As the Qualistar Rating has become more “high stakes” having well-trained Rating Specialists whose reliability is checked regularly has been crucial in building trust in the system. Yes, not everyone can be consistent 100% of the time due to the high variance in the types of programs Rating Specialists encounter, but by having highly reliable Raters, program disputes over the observation portion of the rating have decreased over time.

Incentives: Because child care is so expensive to implement at a “quality level” the fourth important thing is that we need to provide incentives for programs that participate. Whether the incentives come in the form of grants for staff training or coaching or whether it comes in the form of higher reimbursement rates, programs need support to make “quality” happen.

Buy-in to the system: Finally one of the last things we learned over time is the importance of buy-in to the process both from the provider perspective and from the parents who put their children in our child care centers/homes. We want providers invested in improving the quality of their classrooms; that they really understand that quality is something you work on every single day – not just the day or month of the rating. Yes anyone can “pass the test” on any of these quality measures, but to really commit to quality every single day is extremely important. In our programs who have invested the time and energy to work on quality every day, the benefits to the children enrolled in those programs can be life-changing.

For parents, who are the consumers, it’s also important that they buy in to this system and that they no longer accept poor quality care for their children. Yes, the problem that we continue to face is that many parents’ choices in child care may, out of necessity, be driven by costs of programs rather than the quality. I’m fairly certain that if you asked any parent, they would prefer to put their child in a quality program if we could find a way to make it affordable.

So as we look to introducing more quality improvement measures for our child care centers and homes, it’s important to take what we have learned and improve upon it. And like any suitcase, there are some things that we take with us but we never use, and some things we forgot to bring along or couldn’t fit that are critical to our journey. Some of these include the buy-in of providers and parents, approaches and tools for working with Dual-Language Learners and Staff, support for the wide array of curricula that are being used by our programs, funding for our improved QRIS system, and having resources in place in all areas of Colorado and for all types of programs. And while this is just a small list of what we’ve learned and what we still need to answer, it’s a start. What other things have you learned from our ERS journey that we need to pack with us in our “Quality Suitcase” as we embark on this new direction?


Ducks on Bikes and New Investments in Early Childhood

Posted by Molly Yost


Molly Yost

1duckonbikeState leaders in search of some light reading are picking-up Duck on a Bike and putting down the bills as Colorado’s 2013 legislative session comes to a close. This past week more than 70,000 copies of the children’s book made their way into the hands of youngsters across the state as part of One Book 4 Colorado – a collaborative initiative between the Lt. Governor’s Office, Serve Colorado, the Denver Preschool Program, Reach out and Read Colorado, public libraries, and the business and philanthropic community. This is just one of several efforts geared towards raising public awareness about the importance of early literacy and the impact high quality early childhood education has on future academic achievement. In tandem with the week’s events was the release of the Colorado Reads 2013: The Early Literacy Initiative report. This comprehensive blueprint outlines the state’s progress and a path forward to ensure more children are reading at grade level by third grade.

Capping-off the excitement were a number of landmark measures aimed at strengthening the state’s birth to eight policy agenda by increasing access, quality, and coordination of early childhood programs. Here are some of the highlights from the 2013 legislative session:

  • SB13-213: Dubbed “the Future School Finance Act,” this bill will modernize Colorado’s education financing system with an unprecedented focus on expanding access to high quality early childhood education, pending the passage of a statewide ballot initiative to approve requisite funding. The legislation would remove the cap of the number of slots available for the Colorado Preschool Program (current cap is 20,160 slots), allowing all at-risk 3- and 4-year olds to participate. In addition, the bill would increase access to full-day Kindergarten for families wishing to attend.
  • SB13-260: Funding will be provided to increase enrollment in the Colorado Preschool Program by 3,200 slots through the state’s 2013-2014 School Finance Act. Districts can also choose to use the money for full-day kindergarten. The original version of the bill included the Expanding Quality Incentive Program (EQUIP), which would have created a $5 million grant program to support school districts seeking quality ratings for their preschool programs and also to improve program quality. EQUIP was stripped from the bill on the Senate floor.
  • HB13-1117: “The Alignment of Early Childhood and Development Programs” strengthens Colorado’s newly-established Office of Early Childhood by moving additional early childhood programs from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment into the CDHS. Governor Hickenlooper and Executive Director of Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), Reggie Bicha, announced the creation of the Office of Early Childhood last summer. The office seeks to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of program delivery and administration by co-locating several early childhood programs within the CDHS. The legislation also reauthorized the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, Colorado’s Early Childhood State Advisory Council.
  • HB13-1291: This legislation creates the Colorado Infant and Toddler Quality and Availability Grant Program within CDHS. The $3 million grant program encourages local early childhood councils and county departments of human services to partner to increase the quality and availability of care for programs serving infants and toddlers through the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP).  The grant program offers local communities the flexibility to implement plans by providing quality ratings to non-rated participating classrooms, quality improvement grants, higher reimbursement rates to programs rated in the top two levels of Colorado’s quality rating and improvement system, and fostering parental involvement.

With the support of Governor Hickenlooper and Lt. Governor Garcia, early childhood education emerged as a top priority this session. This year’s budget reflects significant investments not only in ECE, but an increase of $4.5 million in state funding for Early Intervention Colorado and an $800,000 increase in the Nurse Home Visitor Program to expand direct services to six additional counties in northeast Colorado.  Spring seems to be blooming with good news for Colorado children and families!