The program in which I teach is called an early childhood center, not a preschool. We have multiage (3–5 years) preschool classes and several infant and toddler classes. Everything we do in our classrooms aligns with Missouri early learning standards. We try to educate parents about what we do and the benefits of play-based learning. Over the past few years, we have noticed parents removing their children at age 3 to send them to programs with preschool in the name. Have others noticed this issue?
Central Early Childhood Center
Kansas City, Missouri
We have the same issue with the name of our center. There are a few things we do to help parents understand that their children are learning every day. When talking with parents, we always refer to the center as “our school.” Our school logo includes the words “My School.” Every September our staff assembles a very informative display explaining the virtues of play and what children learn in each classroom’s learning centers. If you believe that you are at school, parents will too!
Westminster Early Childhood Programs
Buffalo, New York
- Make learning visible. Use photos and text to show the program in action. Describe a child at play and detail what is happening, why it is important, and how it provides a foundation for future learning.
- Connect with local early education resource-and-referral agencies to see how parent needs and requests for programs have changed. They may also suggest new ways to advertise your program.
- Compare the language you use to describe your program to the language other programs use. You might not change what your program offers, but you can change descriptions to reflect parents’ expectations.
- Do exit interviews, meetings, or an e-mail survey with departing families to understand why they’re leaving.
- Begin the conversation early. Talk to families enrolling infants about play and learning. Use anecdotes, photos, and work samples to show what you mean.
- Lead a series of informational meetings for parents about the advantages of mixed-age preschool classrooms.
- Invite local college faculty to a family evening to describe what developmentally appropriate learning looks like and its long-lasting benefits for children.
—Thanks to Emily J. Adams, Megan Blackburn, Karen Nemeth, and Susan Stacey for their contributions.
Bullying is such a hot topic these days—and a confusing one. We have noticed that a few parents consider every poor social interaction a case of “bullying.” What can we do as educators to help families distinguish between normal social development and bullying?
The Acton Children’s School, Inc.
In my studies of social competence and peer relations in early childhood, we define bullying as ongoing, targeted, and emotionally harmful behavior that evolves out of a perceived sense of power imbalance. Children who engage in bullying behavior believe that they have the ability to bully others because victims are easy targets. The bullies learn aggressive behaviors from observing other relationships involving authority.
Adult intervention is the most effective way to prevent and respond to bullying, but inconsistent adult response could potentially result in more threatening behavior from a bully. Together, parents and teachers can use the four characteristics listed in the first sentence as a checklist to review children’s social interactions and agree on a consistent plan of response.
University of Central Florida
As an educator of young children, I teach the children about feelings early in the year. I let parents know that we are teaching children to recognize and communicate about feelings, but that because children are just learning, there will be some mistakes along the way. We emphasize that not every social mistake is bullying.
When children know how to recognize and describe their feelings, they can tell an adult when they feel scared or uncomfortable. If one child is making another child feel scared, the second child is being bullied. By putting it that plainly to children—and their families—we help children take better control of their actions and learn to recognize how they make each other feel. By June, the children are expert communicators about feelings.
Early Childhood Teacher
Olympic View Elementary
I work at a Head Start program located in an elementary school. This means walking down long hallways to get to music, art, gym, and to the buses. We often have a hard time getting from classroom to classroom without disrupting other children and teachers. What strategies can I use to help the children walk down the hallway safely and respectfully?
Head Start Teacher
We too are in an elementary school. This can be quite challenging, but we try to change things up and keep our group learning but quiet. The start of the school year is the most challenging, because we must teach the expectations and some of the children have never been in a situation where they must be quiet. To teach them what you mean by walking quietly, you may be able to get a class to buddy up with your group. The older students can walk one-on-one with your children a few times, so they see how the “big kids” do it.
Beyond that, try walking with giant but quiet steps, “sneaking by” the children in other rooms, tiptoeing, walking sideways, walking with a partner, walking big step then little step, walking without touching any lines on the floor, pretending to be slow-moving butterflies, pretending to be mice hiding from a cat, and other imaginary activities that will keep your preschoolers engaged but quiet.
Just this week we gave each child an index card with letters and one crayon. They walked with a partner and tried to find the letters on the cards in the hall, crossing them off as they found them. They could help only their partner, and had to use whispers or sign language to do so. They did a great job! Maybe you could hide a special character on the walls and each day have the children look for the hidden character. In the spring, you could look for the brand new bunny, but “don’t scare him away!” Use your imagination, and before long the children may suggest ideas of quiet ways to move through the halls. No one idea will work forever, so change the activity frequently.
Franklin County Head Start
When walking through our school, the children love movements that correspond to our theme. They usually concentrate so hard on how to move that they are quiet, use their “walking feet,” and do not bother others. We have walked like sloths, floated like hot air balloons, tiptoed so as not to wake the hibernating bear, and trudged through thick mud.
Spectrum Progressive School of Rockford
Bullying is such a hot topic these days—and a confusing one. We have noticed that a few parents consider every poor social interaction a case of "bullying." What can we do as educators to help families distinguish between normal social development and bullying?
I work at a Head Start program located in an elementary school. This means walking down long hallways to get to music, art, gym, and to the buses. We often have a hard time getting from classroom to classroom without disrupting other children and teachers. What strategies can I use to help the children walk down the hallway safely and respectfully?
We too are in an elementary school. This can be quite challenging, but we try to change things up and keep our group learning but quiet. The start of the school year is the most challenging, because we must teach the expectations and some of the children have never been in a situation where they must be quiet. To teach them what you meanby walking quietly, you may be able to get a class to buddy up with your group. The older students can walk one-on-one with your children a few times, so they can see how the "big kids" do it.
Beyond that, try walking with giant but quiet steps, "sneaking by" the children in other rooms, tiptoeing, walking sideways, walking with a partner, walking big step then little step, walking without touching any lines on the floor, pretending to be slow-moving butterflies, pretending to be mice hiding from a cat, and other imaginary activities that will keep your preschoolers engaged but quiet.
Just this week we gave each child an index card with letters and one crayon. They walked with a partner and tried to find the letters on the cards in the hall, crossing them off as they found them. They could help only their partner, and had to use whispers or sign language to do so. They did a great job! Maybe you could hide a special character on the walls and each day have the children look for the hidden character. In the spring, you could look for a brand new bunny, but "don't scare him away!" Use your imagination, and before long the children may suggest ideas of quiet ways to move through the halls. No one idea will work forever, so change the activity frequently.
When walking through our school, the children love movements that correnspond to our theme. They usually concentrate so hard on how to move that they are quiet, use their "walking feet," and do not bother others. We have walked like sloths, floated like hot air balloons, tip-toed so as to not wake the hibernating bear, and trudged through thick mud.
A Child in my class is having difficulties in almost all areas of development. Child Outreach Services administered a yearly Basic screening covering vision, hearing, cognitive development, and language development. The screening results indicated that the child had vision and cognitive concerns. A follow-up meeting to share the results and plan next steps included the child's family, a case manager, and me. After reviewing the results, the family decided to forgo further testing. How does an educator know whether to continue encouraging the family to seek further evaluation or services for their child, and when should the educator step back?
When establishing a parent advisory committee for a child development center, how do you determine the role of the committee? What will their responsibility be? On which program practices will they provide input and feedback?
Lead Teacher/Site Director,
Great Start Readiness Program,
Livingston Educational Service Academy,
Suggest Meaningful Alternatives
Encouraging families to limit children's television time requires teachers to be intentional. Teachers have to ponder why children are watching more television than usual and then research meaningful alternatives. This is more effective than asking famlies to become TV patrol guards.
Sometimes the TV is a tool families use to occupy children, perhaps allowing the adults to prepare dinner while the children are engaged. So I encourage families to swap tools. Instead of using the television, I ask families to have simple but meaningful activities for their children at home, like playdough, Legos, or blocks. These engage the child as much as the TV does. I send home preschool toys and board games to encourage this.
I also invite families to the classroom suring special cooking projects to demonstrate how competent and independant their children can be as helpers, and how easy it is to include them in grown-up activities. Maybe next time they cook dinner, famlies can include children in the preparation, rather than turn on the TV.
Early Childhood Special Education Teacher,
Santa Fe Community College
Early Childhood Education Center,
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Keep children active
Rather than telling families to limit TV, video games, and so on, I took a different approach. I emphasized the importance of keeping children active. In my parent newsletter, I added a link to First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative to get children more active—Let's Move! The associated website is awesome and loaded with great ideas for healthy foods, information on childhood obesity, and tips and ideas about how children can move more often. The link is www.letsmove.gov.
Integrated Preschool Teacher,
Wadsworth City Schools Jump Start Preschool,
—Kathryn J. Siepak,
Early Childhood Education,
University of Texas of the Permian Basin,
Gain knowledge and experience
I have an associate degree in early childhood education and plans to receive a bachelor’s degree in the future. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to obtain knowledge and experiences through my coursework. I think it is very important for those working in early childhood to earn a CDA credential or degree. In my courses, I explored different theorists, philosophies, and curriculums, and through this I determined the kind of preschool teacher I wanted to be. I learned how to take effective anecdotal notes and conduct assessments and how to use them to provide richer experiences for the children that reflect their interests and enhance their learning and development.
The knowledge and experience you gain through coursework allow you to feel comfortable talking with families, other teachers, and community members about your work with children. You can explain why you do what you do and why your approach is effective. By earning a degree in early childhood you gain so much more knowledge and experience in our profession.
Teen Parent Early Learning Center,
Share with other professionals
Just as children are always learning, I believe we, as educators, are also learning. Each child brings a unique presence to the classroom. Continuing my education allowed me to share with other professionals who have experienced similar teaching challenges. It also allowed me to share my experiences with my classmates. We learned from each other as well as from our professors.
After I received a child development degree, I became a lead teacher, with more responsibility outside the classroom and an increase in compensation. Pursuing my degree also increased my passion for educating the little ones in my care. I am committed to the tenets of NAEYC and to doing my absolute best to create a nurturing, warm, safe, and educational environment for the preschoolers I teach.
Peace Lutheran School,
Student in Teacher Education,
No “boy” and “girl” colors
I discourage gender stereotypes by trying to maintain an anti-bias attitude. I use gender-neutral terms when discussing careers and members of the community. For example, I say firefighter instead of fireman, mail carrier instead of mailman, and so on. I select books for the classroom with pictures and language that show both genders doing different jobs. I also make a conscious effort to call on boys and girls equally.
When teachers overhear children’s stereotypical comments like “girls can’t play with blocks” or “boys can’t wear pink,” they must address them so these ideas are not perpetuated. Teachers can use these teachable moments to tell children that the classroom materials are for everyone, that there are no “boy” and “girl” colors, and that boys and girls are free to choose, wear, and play with whatever they like. If there is gender segregation in the learning centers, teachers can follow up by reading a book like The Berenstain Bears: No Girls Allowed, by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
Pleasant Knoll Elementary School,
Fort Mill, South Carolina
Pretending to be anyone
When you give boys and girls a variety of choices, the stereotypes should bounce right out the door. For example, in dramatic play offer dress-up clothes so children can be teachers, doctors, police officers, chefs, and so on. Have both male and female dolls, and encourage the children to imitate, imagine, and pretend to be anyone they wish. Post pictures of both genders doing different jobs, such as a male nurse or a female football player. Also, select materials in a range of colors, not just blue and pink.
If children make stereotypical comments about what boys and girls are like or can do, talk to the children about what they said. Teachers may need to teach children that it is okay to play where they choose, wear what they like, and pretend to be anyone.
Child Care Provider and CDA Student,
Director and Lead Teacher,
Furman University Child Development Center,
Greenville, South Carolina
To engage families, we consider each family on an individual basis. At the beginning of each year, we survey each family to determine the types of activities that are most important to them and the times they are available to participate. While some families are able to attend meetings, programs, and events held during the day, others are only able to attend those held after hours.
Our solution is to rotate meetings, trainings, and family functions so that some are offered during the day and others are offered in the evening. This allows families to choose a session they want to attend at a time that is convenient for them.
To promote participation during programs scheduled after hours, we offer child care and snacks for the children at no cost to the families. This encourages parents to stay beyond closing time without having to find care for their child or worry that their child will be hungry as dinner time approaches. The minimal effort it takes to make these accommodations has a positive impact for families and children.
—Cheryl Cyr Sparks
Director of Child Care,
Center of Special Care Child Care Center
and Vacation Venture Kids Camp,
Hospital for Special Care,
New Britain, Connecticut
Because parents are so busy rushing to work and dropping off their children during the week, I find that having weekend activities works best for the families in our program. On weekends families have time to participate in activities like planting the school garden, visiting a petting zoo, or attending a puppet show with their children. Other activities we have held include an international foods dinner and a school parade.
I enjoy the weekend activities because they are a great way to form family partnerships. Parents also have a chance to build relationships with the staff. These activities help to grow our school community and allow for conversations about classroom activities, child development, and developmentally appropriate practice. Families love that their whole family can attend and be a part of their child’s success at school.
Creative School for Children,
University of Central Florida
Early Childhood and School-Age Consultant,
Keynote Speaker, Educator, and Author,
Creative Beginning Steps,
Boca Raton, Florida
I would explain to parents that play is a child’s work. Children learn all about the world through their play. Every center within a classroom provides multiple opportunities for skill development through play. For example, when children pretend in the dramatic play area, they work through their understanding of family roles, express their feelings, and develop social, emotional, and communication skills as they play and talk with other children. When children build with blocks, they explore science concepts like gravity and balance and math concepts like shape and structure.
One other observation I also share with parents is that when learning is fun, everyone is more likely to participate. This holds true for children and adults. If we can arrange for children to learn important skills and concepts through play, which all children enjoy, what better way to stimulate learning?
Messiah Lutheran Preschool,
I found this great poem by Leila P. Fagg that I give to parents after discussing the benefits of play.
You say you love your children,
And are concerned they learn today?
So am I—that’s why I’m providing
A variety of kinds of play.
You’re asking me the value
Of blocks and other such play?
Your children are solving problems.
They will use that skill everyday.
You’re asking what’s the value
Of having your children play?
Your daughter’s creating a tower;
She may be a builder someday.
You’re saying you don’t want your son
To play in that “sissy” way?
He’s learning to cuddle a doll;
He may be a father someday.
You’re questioning the interest centers;
They just look like useless play?
Your children are making choices;
They’ll be on their own someday.
You’re worried your children aren’t learning;
And later they’ll have to pay?
They’re learning a pattern for learning;
For they’ll be learners always.
Inova Fairfax Hospital Child Care Center,
Falls Church, Virginia
The poem “Play Today?” originally appeared in Ideas That Work with Young Children, Vol. 2, edited by Leah Adams and Betty Garlick, published by NAEYC in 1979.
How do you balance your home life and work life? I always end up working on my ideas too much during the weekend. I am passionate about what I do with the children during the week at work, but I also need to make my own children a priority. How do you juggle it all?
Incirlik Child Development Center,
Incirlik Air Base,
This is a difficult life lesson to learn and relearn! I believe it takes a mental model to remind ourselves, as educators, how our passion for working with “small and tall people” can become all-consuming. In 2004, I was the presenter at a workshop titled Work-Life Balance. During this workshop, I demonstrated the idea of time and priorities using a tall glass container, large rocks, small rocks, pebbles, and sand. This idea came from an e-mail I once received called “The Story of the Rocks."
The glass container represents time. The large rocks represent our family commitments, while the small rocks are those things—like our profession—that are valuable and take up time, but aren’t as important as our family. The pebbles are the things we like to do but often feel that we can’t or shouldn’t, because we “should” be doing other things—yoga class, housework, or having coffee with a friend. The sand represents the tasks that we allow to fill our thoughts and days: doing additional tasks at work, picking up the dry cleaning, getting an oil change, and so on. They must happen sometime, but can be very time consuming.
If we fill the container with sand first, then the remaining rocks, stones, and pebbles won't all fit. However, when the large family rocks are placed as a priority in our container of time, then the stones, pebbles, and sand will filter down, filling the cracks. Amazingly, they all fit! I now keep this demonstration as a personal mental model to ensure that I attend to my big rocks first.
Elementary Principal and PhD Student,
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
I've set a firm rule that Saturday is my day. No work allowed. This is vitally important as family and friends must always come first. I will admit, though, that if I'm out and about shopping and I see that perfect item for my classroom, I do bend the rule and buy it. But it stays in the shopping bag until Monday! I also limit the amount of prep work I do on Sundays to only a couple of hours, because my better half deserves my undivided attention.
Another important strategy I use is to keep my work files in one folder on the computer. I only open this file in the evenings, after I’ve already spent quality time with my spouse and we've completed evening chores like cooking dinner and washing dishes.
In a full-year preschool without traditional school year vacations, it's easy to burn out. Remember to pace yourself; you know when you are doing too much. When I start to frequently sing children's songs around the house or dream about circle time in my sleep, I know it's time to take a few days off with my spouse, who helps to ground me and return me to the world of adult conversations.
Bitburg Child Development Center,
Bitburg Air Base, Germany
What one “must-have” professional book should an early childhood educator read, and why? With all the wonderful resources out there, I would love to have guidance in narrowing them down to some key publications. Many thanks!
—Silva Gabriele Stumpf,
Child Development Lead Teacher,
The Little School of Hillsborough at Waterstone,
Hillsborough, North Carolina
The Creative Curriculum for Preschool, 4th ed., by Diane Trister Dodge, Laura J. Colker, and Cate Heroman. 2002. Teaching Strategies.
This must-have for early childhood educators addresses developmentally appropriate practice, the role of an early care professional, and environments that support young learners. Based on research, it links learning to early learning development and standards.
—Marie Olsen, North Hyde Park, Vermont
Diversity in Early Care and Education: Honoring Differences, 5th ed., by Janet Gonzalez-Mena. 2008. McGraw-Hill.
This book is a guide for working with parents from cultural backgrounds different from your own. I love the way the author seeks to find a solution where neither side feels they have compromised their values around children.
—Emily J. Adams, Washington, DC
Educating Young Children: Active Learning Practices for Preschool and Child Care Programs, 3rd ed., by Mary Hohmann, David P. Weikart, and Ann S. Epstein. 2008. HighScope.
This complete guide to the HighScope Curriculum is also an excellent resource on high-quality, developmentally appropriate programs, regardless of the curriculum you use.
—Cheryl Baryo, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ethics and the Early Childhood Educator: Using the NAEYC Code, 2005 Code ed., by Stephanie Feeney and Nancy K. Freeman. 2005. NAEYC.
This book provides a foundation from which to address large issues and problems and the millions of moments when we make quick decisions about what is “right.”
—Sharon A. Roth, Greenfield, Massachusetts
The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children’s Learning, by Ann S. Epstein. 2007. NAEYC.
This book focuses on maintaining the balance between child-guided and adult-guided activities, with many strategies for meeting goals in each content area. It is a great guide for how to help each individual child achieve success!
—Carrie A. Dunn, Battle Creek, Michigan
Learning Together with Young Children: A Curriculum Framework for Reflective Teachers, by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter. 2008. Redleaf.
This book will guide your journey as an early childhood educator and challenge you to become a thinker and researcher. It is full of inspirations, questions, and refl ections of all kinds!
—Mia Cavalca, Oakland, California
The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, by Carol Stock Kranowitz. 2005. Perigee.
In today’s world there are so many children with sensory disabilities. This book really puts things in perspective and gives good strategies and hands-on activities targeted for each sensory disorder.
—Polly Kaat, Plymouth, Wisconsin
Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, and Vygotsky, by Carol Garhart Mooney. 2006. Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Mooney helps readers see the importance and validity of the thoughts from these various theorists, differentiating one from the other.
—Ann Wolff, South Windsor, Connecticut
Editors’ note: Many readers recommended NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practice (3rd edition), a book most early educators already know.
How can I make sure I am sensitive to same-sex parents when it comes to acknowledging Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? We have events such as “Moms and Muffins” and “Dads and Donuts” in which one parent comes in with their child for breakfast and playtime. Should we continue to have these events, and if so, how do we handle this with families that have same-sex parents?
—Angela Kaiser, Director/Lead Teacher,
University of Wisconsin–River Falls,
The University Preschool,
River Falls, Wisconsin
Our school serves a diverse community. We strive to create an inviting, accepting environment that is sensitive and accommodating to 2- to 5-year-old children and families from different cultures and backgrounds. The books we read and subjects we teach in the classroom support the view of the family as pluralistic instead of only the traditional mom-dad-child structure.
Instead of celebrating Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, we have Family Day. This validates every family structure so all children feel comfortable. We also have a Buddy and Me yearly breakfast. Children invite their buddies, who can be their dads, uncles, grandparents, mothers, aunts, or family friends. This event was born a number of years ago in response to the Daddy and Me breakfast, which excluded families without a daddy. On Grandparents and Special People Day, we welcome anyone who is influential in the children’s lives. I think events like Moms and Muffins and Dads and Donuts should be structured and organized to reflect your school’s community. This may mean you broaden the theme to be inclusive of all.
—Avivit Ashkenazi-Pyle, Assistant Teacher,
Temple Beth Sholom Foundation School,
Miami Beach, Florida
Families are wonderfully diverse these days, and they need all the love, recognition, and support they can get. Our school does everything possible to endorse and support families and as little as possible to divide and criticize. We define families as those who are committed to each other over the lifetime of the child. We listen carefully to children and families and make no assumptions about with whom a child lives, who they love, and who loves them. Children are really pretty clear about this. We try to keep up!
For special events, we extend invitations to all who would like to come. Our many family events are called Family and Friends or Everybody Come. Children eagerly extend party invitations and make simple gifts for those they love—we must learn to be as inclusive as they are! Neighbors, grandparents, and special friends who are attached to our young students are eager to come celebrate their school life. We invite children to make gifts for as many mothers or fathers as they have. We ask and listen to the child’s answers. We need only to follow their lead. Your program could serve breakfast to honor all those who care for, raise, and love the children in your program. This can include same-gender parents, stepmoms and stepdads, grandparents, and other loving folks. Children benefit greatly from seeing the efforts these adults are making. We can help even the youngest learners say thank you.
—Marcia Pioppi Galazzi, School Founder, Teacher, and Certified Family Life Educator,
The Family Schools, Inc.,
How do you keep the children occupied and engaged during hand-washing? In my class, it can take up to 20 minutes for all of the children to wash their hands, and we wash our hands at least four times a day. Please share your learning games, activities, songs, and tips.
—Kristy Pulcher, Pre-K Teacher,
First United Methodist Church—The Weekday Program,
There are two ways to think about this. You can come up with games, songs, and activities for children to do while they wait in line. Or you can do what I think is better for children by eliminating the wait and giving the children more autonomy. If you don’t have a sink in your classroom, see if you can get a portable sink. Talk to children about when hand washing is needed, then put them in charge of it. When children take responsibility for their own hand washing, they learn to develop the habit and soon are doing it without teacher reminders.
How you handle each hand-washing scenario will depend on what the children are doing. Be vigilant about enforcing hand washing the first few days and ask the children to remind each other. If the first time they wash hands is before snack, tell the children that they need to wash because it is their “ticket” to the snack area. Some children will be too busy playing to need snack right away. After a few days the children will naturally stagger themselves and will enjoy reminding each other. If the children are in circle time before lunch, have three children wash their hands and then touch another child when they return to the circle. This is a great way to form a lifelong handwashing habit.
—Elisabeth Barker, Director,
Child Care Resource and Referral, Western Region,
Cedar City, Utah
Young children are still learning how to wait and to take turns. They do not have the ability to stand and wait in line for very long. If it is taking 20 minutes for all the children to wash their hands, then it would be good to break up the line into smaller groups or provide more sinks.
Have children wash their hands one at a time or in small groups. As children finish an activity, they can wash their hands and then move to another area. After bathroom visits, it’s the same; the children don’t all have to go to the bathroom at the same time. Before lunch let the children continue to play and work while calling them one at a time to wash their hands. When they are finished, they can go to the table and begin to serve themselves food. This prevents the behavior problems children have
while waiting in line. It also helps children and teachers avoid conflict and have a less stressful day.
If you have to wait, try songs or finger plays the children already know. If you need ideas, try looking on the Internet. We often sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Where Is Thumbkin?” and “Wheels on the Bus.” Or try games like I Spy, and I Am Thinking of a Number between 1 and 10.You can even read a book.
—Barbara Wright, Mentor/Trainer,
Family Child Care Partnerships,
Auburn University,Auburn, Alabama
How do you approach rough-and-tumble play in your setting? Every year it seems like a number of children have a physical need for this kind of play. How do we best meet their needs while ensuring their safety and that of their classmates? If we allow rough-and-tumble play, how do we help the children to calm down when it is time to move on to other activities?
— Harriet Dumas, Lead Teacher,
Hartland Cooperative Nursery School,
It is important to acknowledge children’s need for really physical play while still setting clear limits for acceptable behavior. Two rules we use are “no one can get hurt” and “play has to be fun for everyone.” We ban some words, limit noise level and materials used, and enforce spatial boundaries using furniture, carpet edges, masking tape, or even imaginary lines.
Before it is time to move on to a different activity, let the children know that their rough playtime is coming to an end. They need time to calm themselves. A structured transition—for example, playing the same music at the same time every day—can provide an excellent cue that time is almost up. It may not work at first, but as children learn to associate the music with the end of their play, they will automatically transition when they hear it.
Cleaning up the rough play area is another natural transition, because the materials for rough play are removed in the process. Let the children know what they will be doing next, and they will usually transition pretty quickly and smoothly—especially to a snack or an engaging story, since they’ve burned off some extra energy! If there are some who still want to keep going, remind them that they will have another chance to play rough, just not right now. Explain that everyone must follow directions consistently, because rough play has to be fun for all. If they need more time to calm themselves, include a short song that involves moving the whole body.
—Louise Giebel ECE Instructor/Home-Based Child Care Provider,
Blackfeet Community College,
As a teacher I have found that touch, rough-and-tumble play, and body contact are essential to some children’s ability to learn and function. I allow rough-and-tumble behaviors in the classroom and play yard. Sometimes we offer a rough-and-tumble area as a learning center. Other times we have “official rough-and-tumble sessions" on mats or piles of pillows.
Children can learn the how tos of safe rough-and-tumble play. We talk about how to negotiate with each other, how to communicate our boundaries about touching and roughhousing, how to say “no” when we do not want to play that way, and what to do when we no longer want to play rough. It is also important to teach children compassion for others, awareness of their own body and its limits, and how to listen and respond to each other.
To help the children calm down after rough-and-tumble play, let them know that the playtime will be ending. A simple statement, such as, "In five minutes we will put away the pillows and mats. It's time to finish
up our tumbly play" works well. Help the children put away materials while continuing the joy of their play. You might make a throwing game of putting away the pillows or challenge them to carry the big tumbling mat as a team.
To help the children focus and bring their energy down a level, begin a new activity (bring out books or hands-on materials), move to another play space, and give children simple choices.
—Louise Bukrey, Owner/Teacher,
Columbia Foxglove Farm Children’s Place,
What can early childhood educators do when a child dies? A preschooler who was attending our center died unexpectedly. He was much loved by the other children and teachers. How do we tell the children and families that their classmate and friend has died? Is it appropriate to discuss this subject with 3- and 4-year-olds? Do we inform the parents only and let them decide whether to talk with their children? What do we do if children whose parents have told them about the death come to school and tell friends whose parents did not discuss it?
— Diane Turcin, Director,
The Seed Day Care Center,
Yorktown Heights, New York
When we experienced the death of our assistant director, we immediately sent a letter home to the families, suggesting specific strategies for sharing this news with their children. Because they were so emotional, it was very difficult for teachers to discuss her death with their classes. We needed someone who was not as close to the situation to come in and explain to the children why the teachers were sad.
I invited a counselor to talk with the children. The counselor gently explained that when someone dies, you do not see them anymore, and they will not come back. Staff did not try to hide their feelings, and the children witnessed us crying and being upset.
The children had an opportunity to talk and remember special times with the assistant director. They made cards and a large poster that was displayed at her funeral. If some families believe in heaven or use that expression, an
excellent book to share with children is What’s Heaven? By Maria Shriver.
—Linda Kraut, Director,
Ewing Catholic Youth Organization Preschool at Hollowbrook,
Ewing, New Jersey
Tragedy struck our classroom last summer when one of our children died in an accidental drowning. My sympathies to you, your center, and families. I’m sure you found it impossible to keep this sad news from the children. And children, being children, will ask some very difficult questions. In our situation, I always answered children’s questions as truthfully as possible without giving
more information than they really needed or could understand. I listened more than I spoke.
Because young children have such a limited understanding of time, they cannot comprehend “forever.” On occasion, a child in my classroom will suddenly remember their lost friend, and ask if “she’s done in heaven yet.” I try to keep to myself my personal beliefs about what happens after life and allow the children to talk about what they have learned at home.
To help this child’s family, the children, and the center staff deal with this loss, we put together a scrapbook. Using photographs taken for documentation, drawings from her portfolio, poetry, letters from staff, and pictures the children drew of her, the staff compiled a beautiful keepsake. In a situation in which we felt powerless to do anything, creating the book gave us a chance to share stories, smile, and yes, cry.
—Deborah Seachrist, Teacher,
Columbia Child Care and Learning Center,
How can teachers help preschoolers learn conflict resolution skills so they can solve problems on their own? I always step in when children’s safety is an issue but wonder how long to let verbal disagreement go on. When should the teacher step in to help children negotiate a disagreement or figure out a way to handle a problem so that everyone is happy with the result?
—Diane Tunis, Head Start Teacher
Arcola Elementary School,
Silver Spring, Maryland
I ask each child involved in the disagreement to come up with a solution, and then I have them both explain their solutions to one another. A first idea almost always favors the child who came up with it. After one child explains his solution, I ask the other child if he agrees to it. If the children don’t agree to either solution, I ask them to come up with another idea. If necessary, I ask for a third idea from each child. At this point one of them will usually decide to compromise a bit to get on with the activity at hand.
I try not to give the children the solutions, but just keep asking them what they want to happen. When they come up with a solution they both agree on, I acknowledge their efforts by saying, “You solved the problem on your own!” In time, children come up and tell me how they have just solved a problem by themselves. Sometimes it is helpful to have a specific table that is for solving problems.
—Laura Durbrow, Assistant Director,
Vermont Hills Family Life Center-Burlingame,
I have been most successful in helping children learn conflict resolution skills by using a Peace Table. Each year the children help me design a table with puppets and peaceful pictures, and together we develop and post discussion rules. At first, I facilitate and guide the children’s conversations. I have the children work through pretend conflict scenarios so they have experience resolving disagreements when they aren’t distressed. Then when a real conflict occurs, the children are more prepared. Of course, if children begin to yell or name call, I step in, but a majority of the conflicts are resolved by the children themselves after only a month of practicing resolution skills with my guidance.
Education Coordinator, WITF,
—Marisol Curry, Director and Preschool Teacher
Woodland Hills, California
When answering this question I have to consider my own beliefs, knowing they will be reflected in the classroom. Although I am opposed to any kind of violence, I am in favor of empowerment. I believe that people are good at their core, but that sometimes their behavior can be challenging. I create an environment with the children that reflects these beliefs.
It appears that superhero play is a way for children to feel powerful. During their superhero play, children can learn about kindness, consideration, and what it means to be a leader. We talk about what it means to be a superhero, and this leads to discussions about the definition of a bad guy. I tell the children that I do not believe that anyone is bad, but sometimes people do bad things. I ask the children to think about ways superheroes can help people who act badly. We talk about how they feel when they have a bad day, and I ask, “Is it possible that the bad guy is having a bad day?” Bringing these ideas to the play helps children to think about being powerful in new ways. .
—Teri Ismail, Assistant Director,
Glendale Community College,
Granada Hills, California
We designate one area of our classroom—the circle time area—as a place for safe superhero play. The rules are simple, “No touching each other.” All of the superheroes are good guys so they don’t hurt other people. There are no bad guys. The number of superheroes is limited by space, so no more than four play together at a time. The children burn energy and are more ready to engage in quiet activities afterward. Of course we monitor this play closely. If children cannot follow the rules, we help them find another activity.
I do not allow play with pretend guns in our classroom, and I step in when a child uses another toy as a gun. For example, if a child used a toy drill as a gun I would ask, “What kind of toy is that? Please show me how you use it.” Then I would remind the child, “Real guns are not toys. Guns can hurt people, animals, and things. In our class, it is not OK to play with guns.”
—Katherine Zorn, Teacher,
Rochester, New York
Several years ago, I was the director of an NAEYC Accredited child care center. We too were concerned about gun play and superhero imitations. The center’s rule was no toy guns and no gun play. The 4s and 5s in particular tested the rule continuously. Fingers and blocks became guns. When we stopped making a big deal about gun play, the frequency and intensity dropped almost immediately. Our gun play rule had become a power struggle between adults and children. Our rule reflected adult sensibilities rather than the children’s need to make sense of the world through their dramatic play.
Superhero play reduced dramatic play to reenactment of what children had seen on television or at the movies. I remember watching one boy, usually a bright, highly creative dramatic player, robotically reenact his favorite superhero’s words and moves. The cure was for teachers to facilitate the expansion of the play. The teacher might point to a poster on the wall and ask “Can you use these conflict resolution steps?” “Can you help build a hospital to care for the injured?” The point was to cause the children to pause and think, and thus enrich the plot line.
—Jerlean Daniel, Deputy Executive Director.
Toys from home are so exciting, and they often help parents get children out the door and on the way to school. But what are teachers to do when children arrive with a Barbie, T. rex, or sparkly purse full of jewelry? In our program we encourage parents to “save” the toys in the car for play later in the day, or we store them in the bottom part of the child’s cubby. But this causes a lot of impromptu show-and-tell when children are getting their coats to go outdoors; the transition can become chaotic. Show-and-tell with toys (versus shells, photos, or books from grandma) just does not seem to work, especially with a large group. Do you have any ideas for us?
—Kathy Sible, Early Childhood Program Specialist,
Whatcom Community College Child Development Center,
Several years ago, I was the program director for a bilingual preschool in Japan. We loved having the children bring in their precious items for show and tell. Each week four to six children would bring in an item. It was placed in a special basket and then brought out during snack or lunchtime, when the children were seated and had a naturally captive audience. We took many different approaches to the items. For example, we would have the children guess whom they thought the item belonged to or we would use the object to highlight current vocabulary or concepts. The child would then come up and give a short presentation. Sometimes they said nothing, just stood there beaming as they pushed the button on their favorite toy to activate it. It was always positive, educational, and age appropriate.
Embrace those objects from home and make them part of your daily routine. Be sure to limit the number of children sharing each week, and make sure each child gets a turn. If children forgot and brought in a toy on a day when it wasn’t their turn, we either put it in the bottom of their backpack (after quickly admiring it) or asked the parents to make sure it returned on their child’s assigned day. One child brought the exact same thing in every time it was her turn—her blanket. We used that blanket a million different ways. We made it into shapes, used it to hide other showand- tell items, or wore it as a cape, dress, or hat. It was never boring.
—Maureen Ilg, Former Owner and Head Teacher,
Global Garden Bilingual Preschool,
Toys from home provide children with reasons to interact and talk to their classmates. A little piece of home can comfort a child who is uneasy about separating from the family. Classroom teachers also take an interest in the toys children bring in, particularly in the beginning of the school year, as they begin to build relationships with the children.
In our full-day program, children can share their toys from home first thing in the morning. As children enter the classroom, they choose materials and socialize with their classmates while they wait for everyone to arrive. At the beginning of the year, we tell them that this is the right time to share their toys with each other. Once the cleanup bell rings, they put the toys away for the rest of the day. The children quickly learn the right time for sharing items from home and will remind one another about putting toys back into their cubbies.
One particular year, toys from home were very popular, so I got an opaque bag to send home with one child each Thursday, and the children took turns bringing in a toy hidden in the bag. With the help of their family, each child came up with two or three clues that would let the other children guess what was inside the bag. I created a schedule so each child would have a turn, and we shared the surprise bag on Friday afternoons during circle time. The other children quickly gathered to listen to the clues. As the year progressed, we took advantage of their interest in sharing items from home and involved families by requesting things that would extend the learning and interests of the children.
—Kathy M. Filipiak, Director,
Roosevelt High School Child Development Center
A child in one of the classrooms I work in has difficulty lying down quietly during naptime. We have tried putting his cot near a teacher and giving him a book, both of which work for about 15 minutes. Then he will go back to making noises and getting off his cot. How can we help this child engage in quiet activities and let the other children sleep?
—Erin Zelinski, Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant,
St. Vincent Family Centers,
I worked in a classroom in which the children had Quiet Boxes—shoe boxes decorated by the children and filled with items from home, such as small stuffed or plastic animals, pads of paper, crayons, and small toys (like a mini Slinky). As each child woke up from a nap, they could play with the items in their box. The boxes also came in handy for the children who didn’t nap. After resting for about 15 minutes, the children who couldn’t sleep could quietly play with their items. When children were no longer interested in the contents of their boxes, we sent the boxes home and asked the family to refill them with new items. This strategy worked well for the children in our classroom.
—Amanda Stevens, Part-time Preschool Teacher,
Kids-A-Lot Country Day School
Make sure this child has new items to explore when he has lost interest in the book you gave him. To stay quietly on the cot for longer than 15 minutes, he may need several activity options. Think about his interests and provide books or tapes about these topics. For example, he might like to look at the vivid photos of animals found in books written for adults or older children. Have you tried letting him wear headphones to listen to a storybook on tape? We found that placing our listening center on the floor between children who were non-nappers helped them stay quiet while the others rested. We chose tapes of long stories and asked the children to close their eyes and make their own pictures of the story in their minds (they could look at the actual books later). Using headphones to listen to music might also help. Even if there is music playing in the classroom, ear phones might help this child stay quiet and relaxed. A small handheld game like a Rubik’s Cube or a stress ball might help keep his hands busy.
—Annette Towner, Professional Development Specialist,
Center for Families and Children,
There are 13 boys and 3 girls in my classroom of 4s and 5s. The boys tend to spend most of their time in the block area and the girls in the dramatic play center. I have offered activities that I think will appeal to both genders, but the children still play separately. I would like to encourage the boys and girls to play and learn together. Help please!
—Belinda Henderson, Preschool Teacher,
Riverview Gardens Early Childhood Education Center,
St. Louis, Missouri
At the beginning of the year in my class, the girls gravitated to the art and dramatic play centers and the boys to the block area. So I brought large motor skills to the art center in the form of a Michelangelo project. Four children were allowed in the art center at a time. The children lay on their backs on scooters and maneuvered themselves with their legs to draw on paper that was taped on the underside of the table. Using markers and crayons, the children drew birds, airplanes, clouds, and other things found in the sky. This brought everyone to the art table.
I also put puzzles and some quieter manipulatives in the block area, along with people figures and a house. This brought the girls to the block center. In the dramatic play area, I put out firefighter gear when we learned about firehouses—the boys and girls loved this! The different props allow the children to think about using the centers in different ways. Dramatic play doesn’t have to be just a housekeeping center; it can be a store, firehouse, or farm. The block center can include cars and blocks, but can also be a place to build an aquarium or grocery store.
When your class is outside, you could try playing with bubbles. The children in our class have shown incredible turn-taking skills when playing with bubbles together. Also, a class garden can be a great community-building activity outside. All of the children can take turns raking, planting, and watering. I hope these ideas help you!
—Lauren Moskowitz, Prekindergarten Teacher,
Harmony Hills Elementary School,
Silver Spring, Maryland
You might try arranging the areas of the classroom so both boys and girls find them appealing. For example, you could ask families to contribute some old boxes to the classroom. Using these, the children and teachers can set up a bake shop in the block area. Move some cooking props from the dramatic play area to the “bake shop.” Children are likely to use the blocks and other items to create a kitchen where they can bake items to sell in their bakery. Be sure to include paper and writing tools in the area as well so the children can make signs and write receipts.
Another idea that can help children see that it’s okay for males and females to do the same activities is to create a classroom recipe book. Send a letter home asking families to help their child choose a favorite family recipe to share with the class. Suggest that the parent and child prepare the recipe together and photograph themselves working together or enjoying the final product. They can write or type the recipe and send it in with a few photographs to include in the class book. I usually allow about four to six weeks for this part of the project. As the children bring the recipes and photos to class, we share and discuss them during group time. Often the photos show both mothers and fathers cooking. After we have received all of the recipes and photos, we compile the class book so the children can revisit their experiences throughout the year.
Continue to spice up your centers with both genders in mind. Try these techniques, and I assure you that without forcing the issue, children will naturally gravitate to areas based on their interests, not their gender.
—Angel Watts, Lead Prekindergarten Teacher,
Cell phones have become an integral part of our lives, and many people cannot get through their day without several cell phone conversations. Parents often miss communication opportunities with their children and with teachers when they continue to use their cell phones during drop-off and pickup times. We have posted a Cell Phone-Free Zone sign, but that does not seem to be enough. What techniques have worked for you?
— Betsey Lepak, Family Center Leader,
Roger Wolcott Early Childhood Center,
As a program director, I too have experienced this problem. It is frustrating to miss out on important communication times when parents show up on a cell phone or with a Bluetooth component in their ear. I made a sign that simply stated, “The Aftercare Zone Is a Cell Phone-Free Area.” It has a picture of a cell phone with a line through it. Underneath it says, “Please take this time to talk with Mrs. Amber about your child’s day!” I posted the sign in the Parent Center, where families can pick up a class newsletter or see calendars, forms, and photos of the children. In addition, I wrote an article in our monthly newsletter about the importance of communication at the end of the day and how parents can use this time to talk with teachers. I included a brief reminder stating “Remember Parents: The Aftercare Zone Is a Cell Phone-Free Area—this gives you and me the opportunity for important communication!”
I think this went a long way in helping the parents feel like they were taking an active part in supporting their child’s development rather than being reprimanded. These days, when parents do show up with phones, just smiling and pointing to the sign is enough to end their wireless conversations.
—Amber Hayes, Director of Aftercare Programs,
Rowlett Christian Academy,
At my previous workplace we initiated a Cell Phone-Free Zone by displaying brightly colored posters in key places in the center and play yard. It did some good, but we felt like we were preaching to the choir. The parents who typically talked on their cell phones continued to do so, ignoring the signs. So we tried another route. We held a parent meeting about cell phone use and the unintended messages we may send to children. We discussed how children listen to everything we say, even when we think they are not listening. We asked parents to be prepared to talk with teachers about their child’s day at pick-up time and to respond to their children upon arrival or departure.
We suggested things parents could do to help their children get engaged when they arrive at the center. For example, reading a few pages of a book in the morning helped children who experienced separation anxiety. We also posted a list of jobs family members could do around the school, if they had time to volunteer. Volunteers could sweep the yard, assist on field trips, set up the outdoor environment, or share a talent during large group time.
All these tasks gave parents a deeper role and connected them to the center in a different way. No longer were they just a parent picking up or dropping off, but a parent who played a key role in the well-being of their child and the center. Additionally, we enlisted the help of the children. After we reminded the children our school is a Cell Phone-Free Zone, they kindly reminded their parents to not use their cell phones at school because “others can’t talk with you if you are on your phone.” We realized it took many strategies to reach our goal.
—Shawn Maurice Bryant, Trainer/Staff Developer,
Early Childhood Continuum,
My co-teacher and I have worked together for five years. We make a good team and can count on each other to get things done. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling that we’re not giving the children our all. We could exchange some responsibilities, but I think we may need to do more than that to keep on our toes. How do teaching teams who have worked together for a long time avoid getting into a rut?
—Pondering in Poughkeepsie
My associate teacher and I have been together for more than 10 years, and there have been times when I also have felt like we weren’t doing our best for the children. My suggestion is to change the environment.
You can start by evaluating the classroom layout and how the children use it. What areas of the room do the children rarely visit? Remove materials that children don’t use and add some new, enticing items. Remove furniture or rearrange it to create better traffic flow or to enlarge a popular area like housekeeping or blocks. To make your classroom feel more homelike, add nontoxic plants. In the book area add pillows, a bright throw rug, a comfortable chair, and maybe a small table lamp. Change the books on the shelf often to reflect themes, children’s interests, holidays, or seasons.
Moving the furniture can give children and teaching teams a new perspective. As they look at things differently and evaluate the classroom space, teachers can get an energy boost. These types of changes can have a positive effect on the dynamic between the teachers.
Change bulletin board displays too. For example, come up with a new design for the birthday bulletin board. Display children’s writing, drawings, and photographs or create a display using pictures, props, information, and samples of children’s work related to a specific theme.
Try exchanging typical roles and assignments. If you always sit at the same table for snack, change to another one. Ask your co-teacher to lead the large group or story time—or vice versa. Ask the children about their interests, and build themes around their ideas. We did a theme on dogs one year because the children loved to pretend to be dogs.
It is not uncommon for teaching teams to need a jump start. I hope these suggestions give you a fresh start.
—Laura Franey, Lead Teacher for 4-year-olds,
Lincoln Park, Michigan
It may be time for the two of you to shake things up by focusing on your own professional development. Make a list of the top five topics that you’d both like to explore (literacy, music, dramatic play, and so on), and select a local conference or a book that interests you both. You might try reading Molly Is Three, by Vivian Gussin Paley. This book helped me shift my perspective in the classroom and gave me new ideas to try with the children.
After reading the book or attending the conference, talk about what you learned and what you might do differently with the children. Perhaps you both decided to focus on
dramatic play. Together you could create two or three new prop boxes based on children’s interests and then observe the children as they explore these new materials. Or after reading or attending a workshop on literacy, discuss how to revamp your writing center. I like to build on books we’ve read. After reading Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin, I added an old fashioned typewriter to the writing center.
I’ve found that learning about something new to add to my classroom or discovering a new approach to teaching gives me a boost. While doing this together, you can feed off of each other’s ideas and excitement. I hope these suggestions will help you both bring new enthusiasm and energy back to your teaching.
—Kathy Mohney, Coordinator,
WMU Children’s Place Learning Center,
With today’s emphasis on early academics and learning standards, I feel we’ve forgotten that learning is supposed to be fun. I miss hearing children laughing and being silly as they playfully explore and discover. How can we keep the joy in learning and address standards?
—Stressed in Skokie
Picture a 40-something-year-old riding a tricycle and making race car sounds while speeding around the bike paths with several (unlicensed) four-year-old drivers, encouraging them to turn left, turn right, stop, go, speed up, slow down—challenging, yes, but a lot of fun for the children. I also scatter around a few hats and select clothing items (purchased from garage sales) indoors and out to transform myself into a variety of teachers:
- In the library area I wear a multicolored storytelling hat that inspires different character voices.
- In the art area I put on a children’s smock (very tight) along with my beret to demonstrate techniques and encourage children to use a variety of materials to express their creativity.
- In the music and movement area I often grab my microphone—a painted toilet tissue roll with a three-inch Styrofoam ball glued on top. As the next American Idol, I belt out preschool songs and nursery rhymes with the children.
- In the cooking area I don my chef’s hat and use an accent (sounding like a combination of Julia Child and Emeril) while reading recipes and measuring ingredients with the children to create delicious snacks.
- In the science area I slip into my lab coat, ruffle my hair, and become a mad scientist, supporting and guiding children as they observe and explore, discover, and experiment in the world around them.
By using my voice and creating a few teacher characters, I keep children giggling and laughing throughout the day and keep the joy in learning—and teaching.
—Michael Lopez Breaux, Early Childhood Special Education Teacher,
Monte Vista Early Education Center,
Los Angeles, California
I feel the same pressure you do. Teachers know that children learn best through play and when they are having fun; however, families—or even one’s supervisor—may not understand that. Without support from the director and families, teachers have a very hard time creating a playful learning environment. Here are some of the things I do to show parents that the children learn through play. You may already do them in your classroom, but may need to make them more visible.
Use photographs to show children learning. Post the photos and attach a caption to each explaining what children are doing and describing the skills they are using. For example, for a photograph of a child painting and mixing colors on paper, write, “Jon is practicing his fine motor and prewriting skills and exploring science by creating new colors.” If the photograph includes a teacher or another child, you can say, “Jon is practicing his language skills by communicating and exchanging ideas with Lara.”
Document children’s discoveries and interests during a project. Write notes and take photographs as the project unfolds; everyone will be able to see what the children are learning as they pursue a topic of interest to them.
—Masami Mizukami, Early Childhood Teacher,
Small Stages Nurturing Center,