Clayton Early Learning

Speak Up for Kids: Advocacy in Action

Peter Blank

Posted by Peter Blank


Peter Blank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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





Amazing DIY Toys for Young Children


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

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


Looking for a great toy for infants and toddlers under the age of 3? Look no further than what you have at home!

With so many new products being introduced to families and children through TV, radio, internet and print, it’s no wonder why parents and caregivers struggle with selecting toys to give to their children.  It wasn’t until my second child was born (and I had a few years of teaching under my belt) before I discovered a ton of great toys that are not only educational and fun, but can be made from supplies that I (usually) have just laying around the house! 


Picture Blocks

What They Are

Take the blocks that you probably already have at home and give them a personal touch by adding pictures of friends, family or objects to the flat sides of the block.  Babies and toddlers will love seeing the familiar images as they manipulate, stack and sort the blocks!  Adults and older children can use the blocks to encourage language in younger infants (“What’s on this block? What do you see? It’s a dog! What does a dog say?”), while older toddlers can begin matching blocks that ‘belong’ together by pairing or sorting the blocks that have family members on them, or by finding all of the blocks that have pictures of animals, etc.

How to Make your Own

If you don’t want to use photos for your blocks, this is a great way to make use of your old magazines and newspapers.  After you’ve collected and cut out the images you want to place on the blocks, use clear packaging tape to cover the picture while securing it to the block.  Avoid using any kind of chemical gloss or sealant, as this will become dangerous when children put the blocks in their mouths.

Exploration Bottles

What They Are

Exploration, or sensory bottles, are sealed containers filled with different types of materials that allow infants and toddlers to experiment with movement and affects that appeal to our senses by providing a mess-free way for kids to experiment with different materials and textures. Early experiences with cause and effect, weight and movement are all provided by this hand-held bottle that most of us can make out of things we already have in our homes!  Kids love them because they’re often filled with various art supplies and object, such as glitter and marbles. Though commonly thought of by teachers as a science or self-regulation toy, sensory bottles are fun because children can use them in a variety of ways.  Try picking filler materials that will have a different effect when added to the bottle.  For instance, one bottle might have water and glitter in it, while another has corn syrup and marbles.  Babies will be amazed as they see the glitter flowing quickly through the water in one bottle, while the marbles move s-u-p-e-r s-l-o-w-l-y through the other! Adults and older children can use this as an opportunity to talk to babies and toddlers about things like color, shape as well as early concepts of opposites, texture and counting.

How to Make your Own

Empty plastic water bottles are probably the easiest thing to use when you’re just getting started with this fun project.  Once you’ve selected your clear containers to fill, you can begin choosing various materials to fill the bottle.  Be creative and try to make a bottle that will appeal to each of your baby’s senses! A bottle with dried beans will make a great noise when baby shakes it, while a bottle with water in it will be heavier and often cool to the touch.  Once you’ve filled the bottles, seal them by super-gluing the lid onto the container.  Be careful not to use too much glue so that babies can mouth the bottle without risk of oral contact with the adhesive.  Once the cap is secured on to the bottle and the glue has dried thoroughly, your baby will have a great new toy that’s as developmentally stimulating as it is fun!


 Baby’s First Wallet

What It Is

Have you ever noticed that babies and toddlers are intrigued by the everyday accessories that belong to adults and older children? Infants and toddlers love to pull picture cards and identification out of wallets almost as much as they delight in finding a few pennies in a coin purse! Parents can keep their things safe while giving baby an interesting and challenging way to develop their fine motor skills by putting together a wallet that is just for their little one! 

How to Make your Own

Find an old or unused wallet and begin filling it with things that are safe for and interesting to your infant or toddler.  Old gift cards or grocery store club cards are perfect for filling the small pockets of a wallet, while larger laminated pictures make a fun alternative for the bill-fold section of the wallet.  As the child gets older, the wallet may not be as challenging to manipulate as it once was, but kids will still enjoy using it for dramatic play and to mimic the ‘grown-up’ behaviors that they observe when watching you at the grocery store, library, etc.


As with selecting any toy for your young child, avoid small items that may become choking hazards as well as any materials that are considered toxic or harmful if ingested. 

Have you ever experimented with making your own toys for young children?  Please share your stories and ideas in the comments section!



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


Candice Leary-Humphrey

Candice Leary-Humphrey

Whether this school year marks a child’s first experience in preschool or a student’s final year before graduation, families may be wondering how they can support their learner through a successful school year.  Though many parents and caregivers struggle to balance the demands of home, work schedules, school events and their child’s activities, there are several ways to make the school year more manageable for everyone while providing students and teachers with the support they need to realize every student’s maximum potential this academic season.

Mark Your Calendar

Most school or district websites offer a calendar of important dates that occur throughout the school year.  By marking family calendars with the dates of school holidays and closures, parent meetings, back-to-school nights, etc., adults will have more time to plan for these events so that families can avoid stressful last-minute arrangements.  In addition, engaging children in the process of using a calendar to plan for the school year provides parents with an opportunity to model positive time management skills and habits.  Children who observe and learn effective strategies for planning are receiving a valuable lesson in stress management and how to prioritize tasks.  This habit not only promotes family well-being, but also provides students with effective personal/social skills that they will continue to use as successful adults!

Stock up on Supplies for School and Home Before you Run Out

Though it may already feel as though families are asked to purchase an exhaustive list of supplies at the beginning of each school year, children seem to run low on or lose many of the most basic supplies long before the year is through.  By keeping extra pencils, pens, paper and folders at home, parents and caregivers can ensure that students have the tools that they will need to complete assignments without adults needing to run to the store every couple of months.  Another perk to stocking up in the fall is that prices are often lower at the beginning of the school year when large chain stores offer special back-to-school sales.  Another great place to find school supply bargains is the local dollar store.  This is an economical way to keep spare supplies handy for those nights when parents hear, “I think I left my calculator at the library… and I can’t finish my homework without it!”

Share Knowledge of your Child with Teachers

No one knows a student the way that the child’s family does. Parents of younger children often recognize specific behaviors that tell caregivers when the child is tired, overwhelmed, hungry or scared.  Families with older students are likely to know just when their child is bored, putting forth their best effort or maybe could use some extra help. Even though teachers want to learn as much as they can about each student’s interests and strengths, this task can be very difficult in a classroom of 20 pupils who are becoming acclimated to the classroom environment.  When families share unique insights with teachers, educators are given the valuable information needed to individualize their approach to working with each student.  Even families who are short on time to schedule a one-on-one with their student’s teachers can utilize this support strategy by scheduling a phone conference or connecting via email.  Parents of preschool-aged children have an opportunity to communicate with teachers regularly by planning to spend a few minutes in the child’s classroom each morning at drop-off.  Not only will this ensure that parents can provide valuable updates about the child and can inquire about what’s happening in the classroom, this will also support the child’s confidence so that the student can begin each day feeling secure and ready to learn. By sharing the family’s expertise about their student’s strengths, learning style, experiences and personality, parents and caregivers are preparing teachers to plan more intentionally so that the educator can better meet each student’s classroom needs. This is how a positive family-school relationship is established through communication and collaboration.

Discuss and Establish a Family Vision for a Successful School Year

Everyone has a varying definition or vision of what success means to them.  For some families, a successful school year may mean that the student’s grades increase, while another family hopes that their child will make more friends or increase participation in extra-curricular activities.  By discussing each family member’s goals for the year, the family as a whole can begin to share a vision for success and make plans for how the whole family will support that vision throughout the school year.  If the vision is to increase homework completion rates or grades, adults can support this goal by providing the learner with a quiet place to do their homework.  Younger siblings can pitch in too by committing to respect their sibling’s need for quiet by planning to play in a different room whenever their brother or sister is engaged in school work.  For younger children, a successful school year may require that the child gets into a consistent bedtime routine so that they are prepared to learn by receiving plenty of sleep each night.  The family can support by participating in an evening routine that will ensure enough time for the young student to transition through dinner, play time and reading before bed.  After establishing a vision for success and the steps needed to accomplish the vision, the family can revisit their goals periodically by opening up a discussion about what the family is currently doing to support their shared vision or any steps that are needed to get back on the track to a successful school year.

Clayton Wants to Know

  • How did your family prepare for the school year? Are there any strategies that have made a positive impact for your family or are there strategies that you would like to adopt?
  • Was your child anxious or excited about the upcoming school year? Were your student’s feelings about starting school similar or different from your own as a parent or caregiver?
  • What do you wish that your child’s teachers had known about your student before the first day of school?

Play and Learn: A Unique Approach to School Readiness

Posted by Molly Yost


Molly Yost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Colorado Lawmakers Get Savvy on Two Gen

Posted by Molly Yost


Molly Yost

The term “two-generation” was mentioned a lot throughout hearings on several child care-related bills during the 2014 Colorado legislative session, which started in January and concluded May 7th. While some legislators asked, “what does two-generation mean?” more often the message was that high-quality, affordable child care is one of the most effective ways to promote family self-sufficiency and equally important, foster school readiness for children. In 2014, lawmakers put their money where their mouths are by passing a suite of significant child care reform bills and budget items totaling $21.7 million that will go far to advance two-generation efforts in the state.

In Colorado, 247,000 children under the age of six (62% of all children in this age group) live in families where all available parents work. Access to high-quality, affordable child care is necessary to keep our economy moving and to ensure more Colorado kids are prepared for success in kindergarten and beyond. Yet the cost of full-time licensed child care for infants and toddlers has reached as high as $14,000 per year – a cost more expensive than in-state tuition at many of Colorado’s postsecondary institutions. Child care that supports parents’ successful connection to the workforce and helps prepare children for school is simply unaffordable for far too many working families in our state.

In recent years, the state median income has declined, and the Great Recession has reduced family incomes: more than 1 in 5 Colorado children under the age of 6 lives in poverty. The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) is one of the only ways the state helps low-income parents who are working, in school or job training, or searching for a job overcome the high cost of care. However, we have seen state and federal support for affordable child care via CCCAP decline by 17 percent over the past 5 years. This lack of investment has been compounded by red tape that makes the program difficult to administer and for families to navigate.

A set of bills with a two-generation lens aimed at ensuring more affordable child care for more low-income working families has made its way through the Colorado legislature with bipartisan support. These bills reflect a set of ideas discussed by a collaborative of child and anti-poverty advocates, parents, researchers, Head Start, child care providers, county human services directors, county commissioners, business leaders, the Colorado Department of Human Services, and early childhood councils to improve child care in Colorado. Some highlights of these two-generation bills include:

  • HB14-1317: This bill makes significant changes to CCCAP in order to help parents find and retain high-quality and affordable child care, support families in climbing the ladder to prosperity, and cut red tape for small business child care providers who want to serve working families.
  • HB14-1072: This legislation would create a new state child care expenses tax credit that ensures those earning less than $25,000 are able to claim a credit, which includes the CCCAP parent copayment.
  • SB14-003: This bill creates a pilot program to address the “cliff effect” that occurs when working parents in CCCAP receive a minor increase in income that makes them ineligible for child care assistance, yet their income is not enough to cover the full cost of care.

Overall, it’s about supporting adults and children together. We are confident that these common-sense changes and investments will enable, not inhibit, two-generation goals so hardworking parents like Shantiara Fite, whose child attends the Educare School at Clayton Early Learning in Denver, can make a better life for herself and her children. “The system should be structured in a way that allows me to go to school and engage in activities that benefit me and my family in the long run,” says Shantiara. “At the end of the day, without this, my kids would not be able to go to a high-quality program. I will do whatever I need to do to ensure they are in a program like this."

This blog was originally featured by Ascend at the Aspen Institute. For more information on breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and their parents toward educational success and economic security, visit

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How Can We Prevent Child Abuse? We Can Start by Just Talking About It

Jennifer Smith

Posted by Jennifer Smith


Jennifer Smith

Child abuse. These two words, when placed or spoken together, have such a heart sinking effect. Perhaps the strong response this term solicits has to do with the fact that many people have somehow been impacted by child abuse, either personally or through someone they care about. Statistically, a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds or 1,825 children a day have confirmed abuse or neglect cases (United States Health and Human Services, 2013). I don’t share these statistics to upset you, or make you angry. I share these statistics because it is a reality… and it is OUR job as adults to make sure this topic isn’t hidden simply because it makes us uncomfortable.

I once heard this question posed to me: If you are driving through town and you see a burning building, what would you do? Then a block later, you see a parent hitting their child. What would you do? Sit with that question for a moment. Why is it so easy for us to call for help when we see a fire or accident in passing, but we hesitate to intervene when we see that a child is being hurt? So, what would you do?

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. This campaign has been going on for over 20 years, since President Reagan was the first to proclaim April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The concept behind dedicating a month to Child Abuse Awareness is to help make it a “talked about thing” as well as to educate and empower families and the communities they live in.

One of the things I have learned in my 15 plus years of working in early childhood is that prevention is KEY. Prevention is a matter of knowing what's going on, what gets to you and how it gets to you. Prevention entails taking the time and effort to think ahead about what is likely to happen (based on past experience) and to develop a strategy for how to deal with the challenge. Children can drive us crazy; there is no doubt about it. Sometimes it seems that kids know exactly how to push our buttons, like some little stealth ninjas sneaking into our subconscious. The questions below are to help parents and caregivers do a little “pre” thinking to help identify their “hot buttons” and plan how to respond positivity in times of stress.

• What's going on? Your child may be acting the way he/she does for a variety of reasons. It's important to have a good understanding of the relevant factors, especially such issues as developmental stage, temperament, and any existing vulnerabilities (including psychiatric, learning, and developmental disabilities). Stressors such as family conflict, financial stress, and peer group issues can play a significant role as well. The key is to find a way to take some of your child's behavior less personally. What seems to be a common situation that your child typically acts up?

• What gets to you? Is it defiance? Backtalk? An entitled attitude? A temper tantrum? Yelling? Screaming? The idea is to be aware of your vulnerabilities; to know what's likely to get you upset. These are your triggers; or if you prefer, your "buttons." What are yours?

• How does it get to you? When your child has behavior that triggers you, how does it trigger you? In other words, does it evoke only anger, or are there other vulnerable feelings that are getting tapped into? Among angers many functions, self-protection is one of the most basic. So if your child says or does something that gets you enraged, it's highly likely there is some other feeling or set of feelings in the background. The more we are aware of those feelings in the background, the more we can appropriately attend to them when we're not actively triggered. How do you typically respond when a hot button is pushed?

• Why does it get to you? This is closely tied to how, but often links to past experience. If you think back on a particular time you got very angry with your child, it probably resonates with some experience or set of experiences you had in your own life, possibly with a parent. Knowing this, however, doesn't necessarily equip you to change your reactions in the present. You still have other work to do. Take a moment to reflect on why these particular things “trigger” you.

It’s crucial to remember that child abuse impacts every culture and economic group. Even the most skilled, experienced parents or educators have moments when they just need to walk away….and that’s okay! Walking away from a stressful parenting situation can be our greatest tool in preventing child abuse.

To learn more about child abuse prevention in your community check out these resources:
Fussy Baby Warmline
The Fussy Baby team is available to talk by phone. Team members are available to listen, and to provide support and resources. Please call us at 1-877-627-9227
Parenting Support
Every parent needs some help some time. If you need to talk, get information, or find some resources to assist you with a problem, call the free family support line at 1-800-CHILDREN. It is staffed from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm every day.
Prevent Child Abuse Colorado
We educate, connect, and mobilize Colorado communities and families so our children can grow and develop free from abuse and neglect.
1-800- 4 A Child
24 hour support focusing on prevention, intervention and treatment. All calls are anonymous and offered in many different languages. 1-800- 4 a Child (1-800-422-4453)
Our Kids Your Kids
The mission of the Our Kids, Your Kids coalition is to support the healthy development of all of Colorado’s children, in an on-going effort to raise awareness for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect, and continuous improvement of Colorado's child protection system.
Child Abuse Prevention Association
“Our mission is to prevent and treat all forms of child abuse by creating changes in individuals, families and society that strengthen relationships and promote healing.”
Consejos para Familias Spanish-speaking parents may call the statewide, toll-free Spanish Family Support Line. Consejos para Familias - Para cuando el cuidado de nuestros hijos es dificil - 1-866-Las-Familias – (1-866-527-3264)
U.S Department of Health and Human Services 2013 “Child Maltreatment 2012” Tables 3-4 and 3-8. Available at Calculations by Children’s Defense Fund.

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Kids Love Yoga! You Will Too!

Erin Jamieson

Posted by Erin Jamieson


Erin Jamieson

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

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

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

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

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

Then, as the seed gets ‘watered’, slowly allow yourself to grow. Move like a small plant sprouting and growing, very slowly and quietly. Breathe deeply as you grow from seed to stalk to tree, from hands and knees roll the spine slowly up to standing. From a standing position, extend your branches outward and upward.Finally, take one foot off the floor and gently place it on the inner shin or ankle of your standing leg. Stand tall and breathe deep, you are a tall, majestic tree!Take turns, allowing one person to pretend to water the seed and the other person to grow into a tree.
Legs up the Wall
Time for a challenge! Get your body into a capital letter ‘L’, with legs going straight up the wall and torso, head and shoulders lying on the floor.
Try reading a book with your kids this way! Try taking some time in this pose before bedtime or naptime, or when your back or shoulders feel tired.
Now there is nothing left for you to do but go for it! You and your kids will be glad you tried a fun new activity together!
Want more?
Denver is a community that is rich in yoga resources! See Radiant Beginnings Yoga, or Yoga for Young Warriors, 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
Yoga Journal, 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!


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.


Pinwheels for Prevention

Jennifer Smith

Posted by Jennifer Smith


Jennifer Smith

Child Well-being Month - Entry wall decor at Clayton Early LearningIf you were to walk to the Clayton Early Learning building today you would walk along a path of blue and silver pinwheels (given that the children haven't already "plucked" up all the enticing spinning sparkles)! Walk inside and you see a rather large Pinwheel on the wall. Why all the pinwheels you may wonder? Well, April was National Child Abuse Prevention month and the pinwheel is symbolic of the bright futures that ALL children deserve. To learn more about the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign visit their website: Child Abuse is a topic that hits the pit of your stomach. It’s tragic, horrifying, and unthinkable. But it's important that we do talk about its presence in our community, because ignoring the issue isn't going to make it go away. Pinwheels grace the pathway by Clayton Ediucare main entrance.Support for child abuse prevention efforts have expanded due in part to the growing body of evidence that suggests home visitation programs for families with young children can reduce the incidence of maltreatment and improve child and family outcomes. Additional research has shown the impact Six Protective Factors have on strengthening families and as a result reducing the likelihood of child abuse within those families. Programmatically we are working within home visitation programs and these ‘protective factors’ every day. Therefore, it is easy to see how Clayton Early Learning is poised at the front lines to be making giant impacts with this work. We don't need a specific "month" to work within these concepts (because it is what our program is fundamentally about) but it's a great opportunity to align with community efforts to help spread the word. So let me tell you a little bit more about what those ‘protective factors’ are.

6 Protective Factors

  • Jenny with small girl putting pinwheels in the lawn at Clayton Early Learning.Nurturing and Attachment - It is the basis of all development. Babies are born social creatures and need attachments to survive. This protective factor emphasizes the importance for caregivers to understand and meet their child’s need for love, affection and stimulation.
  • Social Connections - Much like the Nurturing and Attachment factor. The social connections protective factor addresses the importance of caregivers to build a network of emotionally supportive friends, family and neighbors.
  • Parental Resiliency - All families have inner strengths and skills. This protective factor focuses on the ability of families to tap into these resources, which can help serve as a foundation for building their internal resiliency.
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development - Knowing what is the usual course of child development helps provide families with the ability to set realistic and consistent expectations for their children.
  • Social Emotional Competency of Children - The more children are able to identify, regulate and communicate their feelings, the more responsive families can be to meet their children’s needs, which leads to decreased stress and frustration.
  • Concrete Supports for Parents - This is the tangible supports we can offer to families such as parenting support groups, resources, and educational classes.

4-30_pinwheel-cTo learn more about these Protective Factors and how you can be active in strengthening families visit the websites of The Center for the Study of Social Policy and the Child Welfare Information Gateway [].

Please take a few extra minutes this month to educate yourself on ways Colorado is addressing Child Abuse.

Whatever your role, you can find ways to encourage providers and parents in building these protective factors within their families and communities.


History of Child Abuse Prevention Month. Retrieved from

Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013. Retrieved from

Supporting Evidence-Based Home Visiting to Prevent Child Maltreatment.  Retrieved from

Other ideas for setting a positive environment.



Working With Young Families: Training That All Early Childhood Providers Should Have, But Rarely Receive


Candice Leary-Humphrey

Most early childhood professionals have taken at least one course (if not several) about how to engage families in their child’s education, how to promote cultural diversity in early education programs and the educator’s role in serving families from all socio-economic backgrounds.  While these courses are incredibly invaluable to the competent and intentional teacher, they typically fail to provide an adequate focus on one of our country’s most vulnerable populations: the 1,354 children that are born each day to a teenage mother (DeJong, 2003) Having worked in the early childhood realm for over 8 years as a teacher, administrator and family services professional, I have enjoyed the benefit of extremely advantageous access to professional development opportunities; though I have been consistently surprised regarding the lack of formal training or education that is available for early education professionals who will almost certainly serve teen parent families at some point in their careers.  As educators, we know that developing effective relationships with our students and their parents will only serve to support a positive education experience.  Like all families, serving teen parents and their children requires a professional approach that is culturally competent and individualized according to the needs of the family.  In order to provide this, educators require in-depth training that recognizes the unique needs of teen parents.

Candice and KalebMy experience with teen parents is both professional and personal.  At the age of 16, I became a mother for the first time.  Like many teen parents, the news that you will be having a baby took me by surprise and stimulated a great deal of stress and fear for myself as well as the father of my unborn child.  The most primitive logistics of how I would care for another human being were completely overwhelming to me throughout my pregnancy and even after Kaleb was born, I lacked confidence in my ability to care for my child.  For this reason, introducing Kaleb to a group childcare environment was simultaneously a relief and an additional stress.  Throughout Kaleb’s earliest years, I experienced both positive and negative interactions with his early education teachers.  Some professionals treated me with the same doubt and shame that I already innately felt, while others were nurturing to me as well as my son. In addition to the challenges presented by the educators’ own biases, my own behaviors were as incomprehensible to them as most teenagers’ actions and words are to their own parents.  After years of reflection, I continue to wonder how the interactions between me and providers could have been improved had the teachers been trained on how to support teen families.  What kind of parent could I have been for Kaleb if I hadn’t been so resistant to the advice of his teachers? Is there a way that Kaleb’s caregivers could have approached me so that I wouldn’t have felt so judged? So inadequate? Ultimately I wonder how Kaleb’s experience could have been more complete and successful if his parents had been more engaged in his preschool community.

This month I will be presenting my personal story with supporting data and research at the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference.  I am looking forward to this opportunity to provide guidance for educators and administrators who strive to develop effective relationships and program engagement with the teen parents they serve today or may serve in the future.  The sub-topics that I will discuss are intended to guide teachers in understanding what type of individualization may be necessary to effectively communicate with teens, as well as encourage teachers who may not realize the extent of the impact that providers can have on young families.  Some of the content areas that will be reviewed include:

  • Teen brain development and how we can use Erikson’s 8 Stages to better understand challenging teen behaviors
  • How the psychological effects of teen parenthood may present challenges for providers
  • Strategies for building effective and trusting relationships with teen parents (including establishing appropriate roles and professional boundaries)
  • How effective early educators can positively impact teen families immediately and in the long-term

Though I will not be the first to present this information for educators, I believe that this topic requires far more academic attention than early education professionals receive in traditional degree or certificate programs.  As providers see more and more teens bringing their children to early education centers for care, we must take the initiative with our professional development plans to ensure that we can effectively serve families of all kinds. Teachers can have a powerful impact on parenting behaviors and philosophies.  While I look forward to hosting a forum where I can support educators’ practice and approach with teens, I am mutually excited to remind teachers of the potential that exists within their relationships with all families; but especially our teen parents. Though the interactions that teachers have with young families may not be without challenges, there is a great reward in knowing that you have been a support for a parent as well as their child. The chance to educate young families is an opportunity that early education programs cannot afford to lose; especially when the greatest barrier to teacher efficacy is simply a lack of training.

Are you ready to learn more about how we can effectively serve teen families?  If so, please attend my presentation at the RMECC on March 1, 2013 at 3:30pm in room 503.


DeJong, L. (2003). Using Erikson to Work More Effectively with Teenage Parents. Young Children, v58 n2, 87-95.