Setting the Example

This past Saturday, I presented a 3 hour workshop on outdoor play at a small state-wide child care conference. It’s been a while since I last facilitated a workshop with participants that were not my own staff, mostly because I don’t look forward to the blank stares and sometimes verbal push back I get when I advocate for play, especially outdoor play. I know that my voice needs to be heard but man it is hard to always be fighting the good fight! I’m so thankful for the community we have built here at the Co-op!

I guess I was feeling extra feisty that day in January when a call for proposals went out. I’ve done this state conference before. The participants come mostly from publicly funded centers where they are required to focus primarily on academics, but here’s the thing… the state’s early learning and development standards aren’t academically focused. They are actually quite good, but no one is teaching child care providers how to recognize the standards as represented in play (and then there is the whole assessment piece that I’m not going into here and primarily why we are not publicly funded). I’m not looking forward to a room full of participants whose hands are tied because they have too many worksheets to complete or because their administration doesn’t understand how vital unstructured time, outdoor time specifically, is to little people; but I know they need to hear it. So, workshop idea formed! I enlisted the help of a friend and colleague, Sylvan Taylor. Maybe if the disapproving eyes are divided between the both of us, it won’t be so bad?

I have to say, our presentation was really, really good! Sylvan and I had the most popular session out of the whole conference! No one got up and left (a group joined a little way into the session because the one they had signed up for didn’t hold their interest)! No one pushed back (at least out loud)! They asked insightful questions and truly wanted to know how to provide the children in their care with more outside time. Over half of them wanted my slide presentation, so they could go back to their centers and present the case for extended periods of outside time for their littles! I was proud.

This encounter with the publicly funded world is a reminder of how proud I am of our Co-op community, of the example we set and the authentic childhood we provide our littles while preparing them for what is to come when they grow up and leave us. May we continue to set the example.

Learning to Play

Let’s talk professional development. We are so very fortunate to have a parent base that understands and supports our need for professional development. We close our center for a day twice a year to provide our staff with training and some time in their classrooms without the children in attendance to get a few things done. We use the Monday before Mardi Gras and a Friday in August after our big kids go off to big kid school and before our new Co-op kids start.

If you have a job, you are likely required to attend conferences, workshops, and/or trainings to expand your knowledge base. Doctors do it, lawyers do it, people who work in the fast food industry even do it. You might not notice because it probably does not impact you directly, but if you have a child, any professional development days schools and child care centers plan directly impact you and your family. You may have to find alternative care or use a vacation day if you are fortunate enough to have paid leave. We understand that it can be inconvenient so we’d like to say THANK YOU to our families for seeing us as professionals and not baby sitters. THANK YOU for understanding that participating in ongoing training on the latest in brain development research or innovative curriculum implementation benefits our staff and in turn your child. THANK YOU for supporting our quest to provide your family with the best child care practices possible.

16 from ’16

fullsizerender-4A couple of weeks ago a professional FB group I belong to posted a challenge to choose 16 photographs that best describe our program. 16?!? How do I choose 16 out of over 1000?!? “Can I combine photos to make a single photo?” Nope! Any post over 16 photos would be deleted… Well! Challenge accepted! It took me about a week to narrow down my selections. It was torturous. Choose this, exclude that. Ultimately I chose my 16 and I think they are a pretty good representation of who we are and what we do and yes, you will notice that there are a couple of photos that I combined for this post but since I run this site, I gave myself permission to cheat! Here are my top 16 picks of 2016 in no particular order (except #1 & #2):

1. Our staff! These 7 women make it possible. Everyday they come to work with the dedication to carry out our vision. None of them come from a play-based background yet they enthusiastically embrace our mission, attend trainings, read and put into practice the research and see first-hand why learning through play is the only way to truly guide our littles. They don’t ask “why?”, they ask “why not?”.img_1990

2. Our Families! Part of the conditions of enrollment in our program is the agreement that each family is required to volunteer a minimum of 15 hours each year. Participation at parties, donations, attending the annual work day and simply reading a couple of stories to the littles are all examples of how families add to our village. Our environment is richer because of them.
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3. Trust. Risk. Power. Trust your little to know their own limits. Provide your little enough risk so they can know what their limits are. Do you remember how powerful you felt when you were taller than the world? Our rules for climbing the fence? You may go up as high as you feel comfortable. You may not go over (today anyway). You may climb where there is dirt beneath you (no concrete). Staff stand close by and trust these littles to negotiate the complexities of climbing a chain-link fence because one day they are going to do it without someone spotting them.

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4. Awards! Our Ms. Tressa was awarded the Terri Lynne Lokoff/Children’s Tylenol National Child Care Teacher Award this past year. Each year the foundation recognizes 50 child care teachers across the United States who exemplify excellence in child care and Ms. Tressa certainly fits the bill! Read more about the award here. She was also awarded a Certificate of Recognition from Governor Edwards in honor of her national award.

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5. and 6. Social Emotional Resiliency. Mastering the ability to control your emotions is a long process. Let’s face it, some adults I know still don’t have the ability! Providing a multitude of opportunity for our littles to practice emotional control is essential. Allowing them to work through conflicts, negotiate terms of the game or comfort each other are all examples of how they practice. img_1985

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7 to 11. Exploration and Autonomy. Our littles are given the time and the materials to explore as they see fit. Yes, we have overall guidelines like ask someone if they want mud thrown at them before you throw it and you can’t take something away from someone if they are not done using it but we are able to provide a place and space for the littles to figure things out on their own. img_1949

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12. Spatial Awareness doesn’t just happen but working with bubbles is a fun way to practice!img_1976

13. Opportunity to explore “what ifs”! Working a see saw backwards is not as easy as it looks.

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14. Fine motor development. The adult agenda behind this activity was to make bird seed playdough. The children’s agenda was much different but the fine motor development that came out of this activity was amazing and there’s a good amount of visual discrimination thrown in there to boot!

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15. Our love affair with loose parts. So much more learning than with a toy that only does one thing. Our world is changing and what was once is no more. It’s critical for our children to be able to think about things in a new way, to be able to figure out that there is more than one way to do things and that cannot be done with toys that only serve one purpose. Have you ever threatened that next time you get your little a gift, it will just be the box the toy came in? Children learn so much more when given parts and pieces like empty boxes, bricks, boards, sticks, rocks, buttons, ribbons, blocks…

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16. Trust! Adults trusting that the child can use a hammer and follow all the safety rules that accompany the use of said hammer (or whatever the tool happens to be) and littles trusting one another to work together toward a main goal.img_1983

There are so many more images that capture who and what we are because we are so much more than just 16 photos. Visit our Facebook page to see them all.

The Piñata

It has become tradition here to have a Christmas Pajama Fiesta in mid-December to usher in the winter holidays. We all wear our cozy pajamas, our families bring the fixings for nachos and our Chameleon & Grasshopper classes make the piñata. We fill said piñata with various things like stickers, pompoms, last year it was filled with glitter! Boy did the parents love us! This year? This year we filled it with bird seed/squirrel food so that our wild neighbors would have a nice holiday feast. The kids were so excited to make something for the creatures they love to watch (and the parents were overjoyed that it wasn’t glitter)!

So why don’t we purchase a traditional piñata and fill it with img_1823candy? Because that’s not what it’s about. Making our own is about the process and what we learn and experience from the process, not the product. Filling the balloon with air, making the flour and water paste, ripping the newsprint into strips, dipping the strips into the paste, smoothing the paper onto the balloon and adding just enough layers to make it sturdy but not too many so that it will never dry (quite a feat in Louisiana!), painting it, filling it then getting to hit it hard enough to break teaches so much more than just showing up to whack the heck out of some random character hung up by a rope. Ours is not beautiful by adult standards but it is for the child and that is all that matters. The following is a list of just a few things that the img_1835Chameleons & Grasshoppers experienced while making the piñata that no lecture, demonstration, or series of worksheets could ever teach: collaboration, compromise, cause and effect, order, angle, trajectory, force, physical properties of glue, coordinating fine and large motor activity, eye-hand coordination, measuring, estimating, spacial relationships and language development. An incomplete list to be sure but impressive none-the-less making that big blue blob even more beautiful in our eyes.

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Holiday Crazies

It’s two days past Halloween and my Facebook news feed is already filled with suggestions and activities and outings for the upcoming holidays that can’t be missed, not to mention all the family obligations! All of them look and sound wonderful and make me think that everything is not to be missed, or I wistocksy_txp06b834438ky000_medium_362170-5735d8b55f9b58723d984004ll somehow deprive my family of a magical holiday season. But here’s the thing – most of them need to be missed in order to have a magical holiday season! The pressure to squeeze everything in and to get everything done is enormous and it’s the youngest members of our family who have the hardest time coping. How many times have you walked past the one hour plus line to see Santa and witnessed screaming children and stressed out parents? Or gone to Christmas in the Country and planned to spend all day in quaint St. Francisville only to be derailed by your toddler’s meltdowns? Or gathered the whole family at your house for some cookie decorating and your little one spends the whole time stuck to your leg like glue and refuses to budge? This wonderfully magical season can be anything but for our children. Here are some ideas that may help ease the stress of the holidays:

  • Don’t expect children to always be happy or appreciative during this chaotic time. Children will feel anxious, upset and grouchy when their routine is off or they are over scheduled.
  • Keep routines as normal as possible, even while on vacation. Maintain normal mealtimes and bedtime routines. A simple disruption can create havoc.
  • Eat healthy. It’s very tempting to grab a bite on the go but adults and kids alike need to eat plenty of healthy foods during the holidays. Limit your caffeine and NEVER allow children caffeine. Be mindful of their sugar intake. A caffeine and/or sugar crash will lend itself to a meltdown of epic proportions.
  • Plan for plenty of down time and don’t fill up every single minute with one activity after another. Remember, if your child was at school or child care during the day, they have probably reached their limit of stimulation for the day.
  • Make a plan of what is most important to you. Letting go of the less important things won’t dampen the holiday spirit and will most certainly ease the stress. Take into consideration your child’s routine and best coping time of the day and plan events and outings around that.
  • Focus on “the experience” and “the people” insteashe-throws-tantrums-oftend of “the things”. Is it more important to have perfectly decorated cookies than to have fun with the people gathered together to bake?
  • Prepare children for holiday guests. In all honesty, many of the people who come visit or you go visit during the holiday season may be relatives but are relative strangers. Sometimes showing photographs to children and talking to them about who will be visiting helps. Do not force you child to hug or kiss someone they do not want to (body autonomy – a topic for another post) and explain to your guests that you support your child’s decision and will not force your child to show affection.
  • Lastly – include your child in the preparations. Whether it’s creating decorated placemats, making homemade wrapping paper, setting the table or helping cut the vegetables and preparing the meal, include your child in meaningful tasks. They will be more connected and feel proud to be included.

Simple, right? Not likely! It’s hard not to get caught up in the madness of it all but I promise, limit your activities, maintain a consistent routine and be mindful of your child’s limits and you should get through this holiday season relatively unscathed (and your child care provider will be ever so grateful too!)

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All images for this article sourced from a Google Image search of “crying child”.