The Colorado legislative session has come to a close! After considering nearly 800 bills and resolutions these past few months, Colorado policymakers adjourned for the year on May 11th. Clayton Early Learning tracked over a dozen bills related to our children, their caregivers, and the field of early childhood this legislative session, several of which passed into law:
- HB16-1227: Exempts a CCCAP applicant who is a teen parent from the current prerequisite child support cooperation as a condition of receiving child care assistance. The bill also exempts an applicant who is a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, harassment, or stalking from child support cooperation requirements or from establishing good cause for not cooperating as a condition of receiving child care assistance. This bill would eliminate one of the key barriers for teen parents and domestic violence survivors seeking to access child care.
- HB16-1242: This supplemental appropriation bill for the Colorado Department of Human Services includes a reassignment of funding to go to doubling the amount of Early Childhood Mental Health Intervention Specialists employed by the state from 17 to 34. This means more readily available help and resources to organizations like Clayton to support positive mental health of our children, families, and staff.
- HB16-1423: Tightens statewide restrictions to protect student data privacy by adopting additional duties that the state board, department of education, school districts, boards of cooperative services, and charter schools must comply with to increase the transparency and security of the student personally identifiable information that the department and the education agencies collect and maintain.
- HB16-1425: Specifies that a licensed child care center is not required to obtain immunization records for any child who enrolls and attends the center for up to 15 days or less in a 15-consecutive-day period. A center that accepts short-term enrollees can only do so only if it provides notification to all parents who have children in the center that the center allows short-term enrollees without obtaining proof of immunization.
- SB16-22: Removes the 10-county limit in the “cliff effect” pilot program for CCCAP to allow additional counties to participate in the pilot program. The pilot program addresses the “cliff effect” that occurs when working parents receive a minor increase in their income that makes them ineligible for child care assistance, which is often not enough of an increase to cover child care costs completely. The pilot allows for a more gradual phase out of assistance to help families transition.
- SB16-212: Aligns state law with changes in federal law related to the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP). The state law would be modified to specify that a child receiving CCCAP supports continues to be eligible for those supports for an entire 12-month period before eligibility is redetermined, as long as the child's family income remains below 85% of the state median income for that family size, as required by federal law. This correction to state law would also support the CCCAP reforms that have been occurring since the passage of HB14-1317 in 2014 that Clayton Early Learning has played an active role in implementing.
Bills that Clayton Early Learning followed that did not pass includes:
- HB16-1002: Re-enacts the repealed K-12 Parental Involvement Act which required employers to provide its employees up to 18 hours per academic year of unpaid leave from work to attend a child’s academic activities. This bill would expand both the types of activities that were permitted for the employee leave, such as parent teacher conferences, as well as expand the law to include parents of preschoolers.
- HB16-1022: Increases the amount of funding school districts receive to more comprehensively fund full day kindergarten. According to this bill, if a school district does not currently provide a full-day kindergarten program during the 2016-17 year they must use these new funds to expand its kindergarten facilities. Funding for following school years are also written into the bill.
- HB16-1045: In 2013, the general assembly created a child tax credit against state income taxes for a resident individual. But the credit, which is a percentage of the federal child tax credit based on the taxpayer's income, is only allowed after the United States congress enacts a version of the "Marketplace Fairness Act". This bill repeals the contingent start of the tax credit and instead allows the credit to be claimed for any income tax year beginning with the 2016 income tax year.
- HB16-1050: Creates a task force to address the child care needs of low-income parents of young children as the parents seek to advance their education. The task force must identify and reduce, if possible, barriers to obtaining child care from the range of available federal, state, and private child care sources, determine whether the parents' child care needs can be met through existing sources, review and streamline the processes for providing child care for parents while they obtain education or training, communicate the availability of child care from public and private sources to parents who are seeking education or training, and recommend legislative changes.
- HB16-1196: Creates the aspire to college Colorado pilot program in the department of human services to provide college savings accounts, as defined in the bill, to preschool-aged children served in an early childhood program. Within existing appropriations, the state department shall make an initial $50 contribution to a college savings account administered by CollegeInvest as part of the college savings program on behalf of an eligible child.
- HB16-1338: Under current law, the early childhood leadership commission is scheduled to repeal on September 1, 2018. The bill extends the repeal date to September 1, 2020.
Just because the legislative session is over doesn’t mean that the policy process stops! Summer and fall are busy seasons for legislators, as they meet with their constituents, attend interim commissions, prepare for elections and begin to draft bills for the upcoming session.
If you have any questions about these bills or ways to be involved in the legislative process while policymakers are out of sessions, please contact Lauren Heintz, Policy Specialist for Clayton Early leaning: email@example.com.
Parents and caregivers sometimes hear the reminder “Don’t forget to take care of yourself;” but wonder how self-care could be a practical part of their busy lifestyles. Further, most natural caregivers are uncomfortable prioritizing themselves because it feels selfish or unproductive. In truth, self-care is an essential skill that will only enhance the caregiver’s ability to effectively support others. Without the ability to nurture one’s self physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually; caregivers are at risk for burnout, fatigue and other barriers that will drastically impact the quality of care that they can provide for others.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is the regular and ongoing way that a person actively participates in enhancing their health and quality of life. At the most basic level, self-care includes responding to your own physical and mental health needs such as illness, injury and chronic pain as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety. Caregivers who neglect their personal health are not as physically or emotionally able to effectively meet the needs of others and can risk developing much more serious health issues when personal care is neglected or postponed.
While personal health care is the foundation for an essential self-care routine, there are additional elements of self-care that must not be neglected. Social experiences, spiritual and creative practice, exercise and healthful eating habits are among the self-care basics that are most often overlooked by caregivers who falsely believe that spending time on these types of activities is selfish or indulgent. Instead, spending time with friends, attending church or participating in a book club all provide opportunities to rejuvenate the caregiver’s energy and ability to respond to the needs of others in a positive and intentional way.
Making Time for Self-Care
All kinds of caregivers can struggle with making time for self-care, though parents tend to be among the most resistant to prioritizing self-care; perhaps because their work is a 24 hour-a-day job. Regardless of the schedule, self-care can be integrated in a way that promotes the caregiver’s health and well-being while still meeting the needs of those in their care.
Small Doses Make a Big Difference
The most overwhelming myth that caregivers tell themselves is that they cannot spare any time for self-care. The truth is that every schedule can accommodate time for self-care; even if it’s only 10 minutes to meditate or write in a journal. Whether the time occurs before the caregiver’s day begins or during small blocks of down-time throughout the day; try starting with just 10 or 15 minutes for activities like walking, yoga, breathing exercises or a brief call to a friend. Even in small doses each day, intentional self-care boosts a caregiver’s energy, mood and resilience to challenging situations.
Ask For Help
Another story that caregivers tell themselves is that to ask for help would mean that the caregiver is less competent in their work or is weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Effective caregivers know that by asking for help, they will have the support they need to overcome challenges and to maintain a positive approach to caregiving. Professional caregivers can ask colleagues for support and relief, even if it’s only a short break to take a walk outside. Personal caregivers and parents should reach out to family members and friends to ask for an hour of babysitting while they practice the activities in their self-care routine. Allowing loved ones to support self-care needs will not only provide the caregiver with personal time, it will also enhance personal relationships and model positive lifestyle habits for others; especially children.
Self-Care is a Smart Investment
When caregivers reach a point of burnout, chronic fatigue or depression, their work is no longer effective and the caregiver will need to invest a significant amount of time in self-care in order to regain the motivation, energy and general well-being that’s been lost. Instead of neglecting one’s self to the point of suffering, caregivers can integrate a regular self-care routine that only costs minutes per day and will enhance their quality of life almost immediately. Remember, self-care is not a single activity that one enjoys over the course of days, weeks or months. Instead, genuine and effective self-care is practiced daily to ensure that caregivers maintain the energy, desire, physical and mental health needed to perform such demanding work. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s the most selfless thing a caregiver can do to ensure the quality care of others.
Tell us your experiences with self-care. Do you have any ideas about easy ways to integrate self-care into caregiver routines? Share with us below!
By now you almost certainly have seen plenty of commercials for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, heard the Star Wars theme song, read the latest updates about the movie stars, and probably went to a screening of the movie, maybe even a couple times! One way or another you will be touched by the Star Wars phenomena, and I’m no exception This pop culture trend sparked an interest in me to find a connection between Star Wars and my day to day work. No, I’m not a Jedi, nor can I fly an X-wing, but I am an early childhood professional specializing in infancy. So how do I connect my work with infants and Star Wars?
Infancy begins when a child comes out of the womb to when we celebrate their first year of life. Infancy, to me, is the proof of humanity, its existence. Infants never give up -- never! No matter how hard the challenge is to over-come, they never give up and strive to succeed at every task. Reflecting on the Star Wars universe, there are many instances where the various Jedi heroes struggle, just like our infants. As they develop from young Jedi trainees to Jedi masters, there are scenes where they crawl, hide, walk, run, and climb. This is what my students do as they learn to walk! First, they lay on their backs wondering what may come into their view. Then, they attempt to move from one side to another until they succeed to get on their tummies. Eventually being on their tummy is boring and they discover movement. Rocking back and forth, the crawl comes soon after. The final stage is the walk. When infants walk they soon run and then we officially welcome toddler-hood. Just like the Jedi in training in Star Wars, the infants in my classroom need a teacher to help overcome these obstacles, to encourage them to keep pushing past challenges. I may not be an Obi Wan Kenobi, but my encouragement and helpful nudges along the way allow for the young infants to learn and move from stage to stage.
Once a Jedi finishes their training, the real work begins. They begin to use the force and put their training to test in a world balanced between light and dark. A few weeks ago, one of my infants discovered a shadow cast by my co-worker. She carefully watched the shadow, eventually tried to touch it and noticed its disappearance. Other students joined and explored the shadow, comparing its shape to their personal shadows. The internal discovery of light and dark was taking shape in their young minds. Every move they made, they checked in with their teachers to ensure it was safe to proceed. Eventually we added items which caused a reflection in the darker room. Most of the children followed the movement of the reflection and every once in a while attempted to look to where it came from. The infants attempted to find out where the reflections came from, an effort to make sense of both light and dark.
On the path to succeed at each step, infants rely on their teachers who ensure trust, challenge their capabilities and provide a sense of love which tells them they can do it. Once confident in their “training” they put it to use, discovering and making sense of the wide world around us. Maybe I am a Jedi master after all!
Lydia McKinney is an Infant/Toddler Supervisor at Clayton Early Learning in Far North East Denver and has been in the early childhood field over 10 years, most of which with infants and toddlers. Her academic experience covers a wide range of early childhood knowledge: a B.A. in Early Childhood Education and Public Policy, as well as a Master’s in Education in Global Studies in Education. As an immigrant to the U.S., she hopes to provide a diverse opinion, with various viewpoints, of an infant/toddler teacher’s classroom perspective.
By Peter Blank
What is HIPPY?
There are many program options available to families at Clayton Early Learning. In addition to the numerous center-based options our schools offer, many families participate in various home-based programming. One of these options is the Head Start Home Based* program, which employs the HIPPY model and curriculum. The Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) is, according to their website, “an evidenced-based program that works with families in the home to support parents in their critical role as their child's first and most important teacher”The program follows a specific 30 week curriculum designed for children ages three to five. This curriculum focuses on cognitive skill development, such as math and literacy, as well as social emotional development.
HIPPY at Clayton
The HIPPY program is no stranger to Clayton Early Learning’s campus. Beginning in 1994, the model has been serving parents and children at Clayton for over 20 years. At the time of publishing, 68 children currently benefit from this innovative home-based early learning program here at Clayton. Nearly 90% of these children are identified as primary Spanish speakers. According to Michelle Mackin Brown, Team Lead of Family & Community Services at Clayton, participating families always express appreciation about the fact that the HIPPY curriculum is available bilingually in Spanish and English. Coupled with our bilingual home-based HIPPY staff, this allows the program to work seamlessly across varying demographics.
The model is adaptable not only across languages, but locations and settings as well. According to Michelle Makin Brown the activities included in the curriculum “can be done in the home, at the park, at the store and in the community throughout the week to support school readiness”. This flexible approach allows parents to work with their children wherever they may be, bringing important early learning opportunities out of the classroom and into the community.
As previously mentioned, this curriculum is broken out across 30 weeks though at Clayton our home-based HIPPY program lasts 32 weeks. Each home visitor, or Child Family Educator (CFE), working with home-based HIPPY has a limited number of families on their caseload. Such small caseloads allow the CFEs to develop meaningful relationships with both the parent and child throughout their time in the program. During the 32 weeks, families participate in weekly 90 minute home-visits with their CFE to work on new aspects of the curriculum and check in on previous weeks’ goals and activities. In addition to these weekly visits, families come together twice a month for a socialization session. These group sessions are held on Clayton’s campus and offer a classroom experience for the children as well as the parents. During this classroom routine, children are able to socialize with each other and both the parents and children are exposed to social encounters and group learning activities. Transportation is provided to and from the group socializations. Although not required, some CFEs incorporate field trips into the program, bringing certain activities to new and exciting settings like the Denver Zoo.
How is it working?
In order to measure success and progress of the HIPPY program, it undergoes an evaluation process similar to that of Clayton’s center-based options. A combination of data from child assessments and parent interviews are analyzed every year in an effort to track the program’s findings. According to the 2014-2015 Clayton Annual Evaluation Report, “Spanish-speaking HIPPY children† tended to demonstrate strong receptive language skills and made statistically significant gain over time. By the end of the year, the majority of children scored in the average range or above.” Specifically, kindergarten-bound HIPPY children assessed in Spanish left the program with above average receptive language skills.
On a more anecdotal level, when asked how the home-based HIPPY program benefits families and children, had this to say:
“Parents become familiar with educational terms, important milestones for development, how to encourage language development and how to individualize for their child. Families become more aware of their child’s interests, behaviors and learning. Families have expressed that they have received positive feedback from elementary school staff about their child’s academic and social-emotional progress.”
A truly unique combination for both parent and child, Clayton home-based HIPPY continues to reach a wide audience across the Denver community. Here’s to 20 more years of bringing important early learning opportunities to families’ doorsteps!
For more information on the HIPPY program nationwide visit: www.hippyusa.org
For more information on the HIPPY program and other home-based services at Clayton Early Learning contact Tonya Young at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the HIPPY evaluation efforts contact Diana Mangels at email@example.com.
*Note: Clayton’s Head Start (HS) Home Based program follows the HIPPY curriculum with a few additional HS programming requirements. Based on HS requirements, these include an increased number of socializations (16 in total) and two additional weeks than the HIPPY curriculum (32, instead of 30).
†The sample of English speaking children in the home-based HIPPY program was too small to permit valid statistical analysis. Therefore, data are reflective of Spanish speaking children only.
By Peter Blank
Debbie Baker, Child Family Educator and member of the I Love to Read committee, shares with our blog readers the in's and the out's of "I Love to Read" month, which starts February 1st.
By: Debbie Baker
February is “I Love to Read” month at Clayton Early Learning. Early Literacy includes such activities as reading, singing, and talking with your infant, toddler or preschool-aged child. At Clayton Early Learning, we celebrate Early Literacy in February by tracking how many books parents read to their children, inviting guest readers and Clayton staff to read aloud to children, and promoting book sharing with dialogic reading classes for parents.
Ample research demonstrates that reading aloud to young children promotes the development of language and other emergent literacy skills which in turn help children prepare for school. Reading aloud to your child from birth gives your child a true head start in school readiness. Every time you read to your child you are improving their learning advantage.
In addition to improving your child’s language and literacy development, reading aloud also impacts social and emotional development, cognitive development, and fine motor development. Babies and toddlers learn about trust and secure attachment as they share a book snuggled in a lap. They practice attending to the book and can learn about situations that are outside of their regular sphere of influence by reading about them. Fine motor development is enhanced by the child’s desire to help turn the pages as an infant or toddler.
Reading aloud to young children, particularly in an engaging manner, promotes emergent literacy and language development and supports the relationship between child and parent. In addition it can promote a love for reading which is even more important than improving specific literacy skills.
Look for our “I Love to Read to You” poster in the piazza at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning, and add your child’s name to the heart every time you read aloud this month. There is even a cozy reading area for you to share a book with your child as you drop off or pick up.
Join us for the kick off on February 1. There will be lots of books to share and popcorn to munch as we celebrate “I Love to Read” month at Clayton Early Learning.
If you have more questions regarding February's literacy celebration or how reading impacts child development, feel free to contact Debbie for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Among the greatest benefits for children who attend high quality early care and education programs is access to tools and resources that will support the student’s readiness for kindergarten. Though the goal of school readiness for kindergarten bound students is clear, many families may wonder how readiness is determined and what tools are used to measure student growth and development.
Based on commonly identified academic criteria, one tool used to measure a preschool student’s development is the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. As children prepare to transition from preschool to kindergarten, the assessment is used to measure the child’s knowledge in areas including
- Color identification
- Letter and number recognition
- Counting and measurement concepts
- Identification and comparison of shapes
Unlike traditional testing, The Bracken is considered a ‘receptive’ assessment, meaning that children only need to point to select answers and that the student is not expected to vocalize or articulate their response. The assessor must remain objective throughout the assessment, but is dually charged with supporting the child in maintaining focus or engagement and must also anticipate distractions, boredom and other factors unique to working with young children.
Early education professionals must complete a comprehensive training program before they are considered qualified and reliable to administer The Bracken Assessment. This training provides instruction in objectivity, strategies for observing young students and practice in accommodating unexpected factors that include behavioral and environmental challenges.
This fall, teachers and other ECE professionals throughout Colorado will participate in assessor training in order to effectively implement assessment, like The Bracken, into high quality early education programs.
Concurrently, many preschool children will be assessed by qualified educators who will use The Bracken School Readiness Assessment. Those same students will be assessed once more in the spring for the purpose of objective growth measurement over the course of the school year. Both rounds of assessment will produce data that is used to gauge the child’s comprehension so that schools and families can develop individualized instruction strategies for the student as they prepare to transition from preschool to kindergarten.
For more information about The Bracken School Readiness Assessment and other tools used to track early childhood development,
contact Kristie Denlinger of the Clayton Early Learning Research & Evaluation Team email@example.com.
Last week in Chicago, over 60 early childhood state advocates from 17 states gathered for the 2015 Policy Exchange meeting sponsored by the Ounce of Prevention Fund. This annual meeting brings together state based advocates, national organizations, state government officials, researchers, academics and programmatic leaders to discuss the current early childhood policy challenges and opportunities in their states and learn from one another. Though each state is working in a different context of government, funding, and culture, commonalities can be found across the country in early childhood priority issues.
This year’s conference focused primarily on the reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which was passed by Congress in 2014. CCDBG is the main funding source for many states’ child care assistance programs, including Colorado’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP). In order for states to receive CCDBG funding, their state officials must submit a state plan that outlines how the funds will be used, who will be involved, and how the funded programs will be evaluated. The legislation that Congress passed last year made several changes to the requirements for state plans, including:
- More of a focus on ensuring quality in child care programs and increased funding requirements for quality initiatives
- Easier public access to information about child care, especially on consumer websites
- Increased requirements for the health and safety of child care programs, including disaster preparedness plans
- Increasing access for vulnerable populations to child care, with a particular focus on children with disabilities and homeless children
- More supports for families receiving child care assistance, including a 12 month eligibility re-determination, allowing at least 3 months of assistance during a parent’s job search, and providing graduated phase out assistance to families that have increased their income
Other policy priorities that advocates from across the country discussed at the Policy Exchange included continuity of child care, mental health and social/emotional development, policy innovations in Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, funding for early childhood, marketing and communications messaging, and alignment between early childhood and the K-12 system.
The Policy Exchange also gives a chance for states to highlight their successes from the past year. Some of the policy gains for early childhood from across the states included:
- California’s legislature and governor reached a budget agreement that added 7,000 preschool slots and 6,800 child care slots in the state, totaling nearly $400 million in new investments
- Louisiana passed legislation requiring the Department of Education to find funding sources to increase early childhood care and education by $80 million
- The Education Committee in Maine requested the Maine’s Children’s Growth Council, Maine Children’s Alliance, the Ounce of Prevention Fund, and the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University to gather more detailed information on the social emotional development of children and develop appropriate policy recommendations for the legislature
- Nebraska passed legislation which will allow a family to receive transitional child care assistance if an increase in family income puts them over the limits to receive assistance
- Oklahoma’s legislature passed several bills to promote early learning and literacy for children through 3rd grade
- The Washington Legislature is considering in special session the bipartisan Early Start Act to help parents find care and learning opportunities that are tailored for their children, enhance school readiness, and support providers to provide high-quality care that is culturally and linguistically responsive to the needs of young learners and their families
To find out more about the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the annual Policy Exchange, please visit http://www.theounce.org/involved/events/policy-exchange-meeting.
As Clayton celebrates National Nutrition Month this March and all the ways we promote healthy lifestyles to our children and families on a daily basis, we also seek to acknowledge the challenges many people living in Denver face with having the resources for appropriate foods for a nutritious diet., Professionals define food insecurity as a social and economic condition that stems from “the lack of consistent access to adequate food” (Coleman-Jensen, McFall, & Nord, 2013). The Department of Agriculture states that this varies from hunger, a physiological condition, but can exacerbate into hunger if prolonged (Coleman-Jensen, McFall, & Nord, 2013).
Hunger Close to Home
In 2011, 17.9 million families in the United States reported food insecurity at some point during the year. This issue rings true right here in our neighborhoods surrounding Clayton Early Learning. Research conducted at Clayton this past fall identified that across our school based and Head Start Home Based programs, 38.6% of families worried about food running out. Food ran out completely for 18.7% of families at some point during the year.
Food insecurity can disturb children’s learning. Hunger affects children’s biopsychosocial development and impairs a child’s ability to pay attention and retain information learned in the classroom. Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that even “short episodes” of food insecurity can cause serious long-term damage to child development across cognitive, behavioral, emotional and physical spectrums (Raphel, 2014).
- Clayton Staff Working to Combat Hunger in the Community
The Fresh Produce/Food Pantry Committee has a twofold mission to act as a catalyst in building the capacity of families to prevent food insecurity through:
- Providing emergency access to nutritious food for all families and staff
- Educating families about food and nutrition in three main areas:
- Food budgeting
- Meal planning
- Cooking skills
Throughout the year, the committee maintains the Food Pantry— an emergency resource for families and staff in need of support. During the summer months, we maintain and harvest gardens to provide fresh produce at no cost. We have collaborated with Denver Urban Gardens to offer two Youth Farmers’ Markets in the past year and strive to hold more this year! The Fresh Produce/Food Pantry Committee hopes to reduce food insecurity within our community. When our children have access to consistent and nutritious food, we can ensure that they have the brain nourishment needed to focus, grow, and succeed in school and life.
If you have any questions about the Fresh Produce/Food Pantry Committee or would like to get involved please contact
Coleman-Jensen, A., McFall, W., & Nord, M., (2013). Food Insecurity in Households with Children: Prevalence, Severity, and Household Characteristics, 2010-11. United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service, Economic Information Bulletin 113.
Raphel, S. (2014). Eye on Washington: Children, Hunger, and Poverty. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 27, 45-47.
Looking for a great toy for infants and toddlers under the age of 3? Look no further than what you have at home!
With so many new products being introduced to families and children through TV, radio, internet and print, it’s no wonder why parents and caregivers struggle with selecting toys to give to their children. It wasn’t until my second child was born (and I had a few years of teaching under my belt) before I discovered a ton of great toys that are not only educational and fun, but can be made from supplies that I (usually) have just laying around the house!
What They Are
Take the blocks that you probably already have at home and give them a personal touch by adding pictures of friends, family or objects to the flat sides of the block. Babies and toddlers will love seeing the familiar images as they manipulate, stack and sort the blocks! Adults and older children can use the blocks to encourage language in younger infants (“What’s on this block? What do you see? It’s a dog! What does a dog say?”), while older toddlers can begin matching blocks that ‘belong’ together by pairing or sorting the blocks that have family members on them, or by finding all of the blocks that have pictures of animals, etc.
How to Make your Own
If you don’t want to use photos for your blocks, this is a great way to make use of your old magazines and newspapers. After you’ve collected and cut out the images you want to place on the blocks, use clear packaging tape to cover the picture while securing it to the block. Avoid using any kind of chemical gloss or sealant, as this will become dangerous when children put the blocks in their mouths.
What They Are
Exploration, or sensory bottles, are sealed containers filled with different types of materials that allow infants and toddlers to experiment with movement and affects that appeal to our senses by providing a mess-free way for kids to experiment with different materials and textures. Early experiences with cause and effect, weight and movement are all provided by this hand-held bottle that most of us can make out of things we already have in our homes! Kids love them because they’re often filled with various art supplies and object, such as glitter and marbles. Though commonly thought of by teachers as a science or self-regulation toy, sensory bottles are fun because children can use them in a variety of ways. Try picking filler materials that will have a different effect when added to the bottle. For instance, one bottle might have water and glitter in it, while another has corn syrup and marbles. Babies will be amazed as they see the glitter flowing quickly through the water in one bottle, while the marbles move s-u-p-e-r s-l-o-w-l-y through the other! Adults and older children can use this as an opportunity to talk to babies and toddlers about things like color, shape as well as early concepts of opposites, texture and counting.
How to Make your Own
Empty plastic water bottles are probably the easiest thing to use when you’re just getting started with this fun project. Once you’ve selected your clear containers to fill, you can begin choosing various materials to fill the bottle. Be creative and try to make a bottle that will appeal to each of your baby’s senses! A bottle with dried beans will make a great noise when baby shakes it, while a bottle with water in it will be heavier and often cool to the touch. Once you’ve filled the bottles, seal them by super-gluing the lid onto the container. Be careful not to use too much glue so that babies can mouth the bottle without risk of oral contact with the adhesive. Once the cap is secured on to the bottle and the glue has dried thoroughly, your baby will have a great new toy that’s as developmentally stimulating as it is fun!
Baby’s First Wallet
What It Is
Have you ever noticed that babies and toddlers are intrigued by the everyday accessories that belong to adults and older children? Infants and toddlers love to pull picture cards and identification out of wallets almost as much as they delight in finding a few pennies in a coin purse! Parents can keep their things safe while giving baby an interesting and challenging way to develop their fine motor skills by putting together a wallet that is just for their little one!
How to Make your Own
Find an old or unused wallet and begin filling it with things that are safe for and interesting to your infant or toddler. Old gift cards or grocery store club cards are perfect for filling the small pockets of a wallet, while larger laminated pictures make a fun alternative for the bill-fold section of the wallet. As the child gets older, the wallet may not be as challenging to manipulate as it once was, but kids will still enjoy using it for dramatic play and to mimic the ‘grown-up’ behaviors that they observe when watching you at the grocery store, library, etc.
As with selecting any toy for your young child, avoid small items that may become choking hazards as well as any materials that are considered toxic or harmful if ingested.
Have you ever experimented with making your own toys for young children? Please share your stories and ideas in the comments section!
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
-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 down 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!
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!