Come On Over and Sit Right Down

Parents who have been to a Hopkins ECFE class will recognize the words to our gathering song for circle time.  In fact, parents who have spent time in ECFE classes can often be heard absent-mindedly singing the tunes for a great many of the songs that we sing during our group time (teachers are often heard humming as well!). Each class — infants through five-year olds — incorporates a special group time with parents; we get a chance to sit together, sing, play simple games and enjoy the closeness of each other’s company.

There are many reasons for gathering in a group and creating a bit of structure in the midst of the joys of free play. The early childhood staff thought we would share some of these reasons with you to give a sense of the academic and social benefits of this experience.  We couldn’t resist sharing some photos of the smiles, interest and excitement that happens during this time as well!

Circle time creates a natural break in the class where free time shifts to down time. Parents have the opportunity to focus in on their child in a way that incorporates a kind of play and interaction that children learn best from–engaging in activities together with a relaxed sort of teaching stemming from the songs.

What are the songs teaching? This shifts throughout the years. Infants learn to recognize the significance of their own name, learn to hear words as separate entities that have meaning, build muscle control through the bumping, popping, shifting and rocking that accompany the songs. In addition, infants get much needed and much delighted in face time with parents–one of the best ways to teach socialization is to socialize. Babies get to study a parent’s face, listen to the beloved parent’s gentle voice, and thrill in the touch of cuddling and hugging.

As children get older, they are gaining different things from song time, even though they may be hearing some of the same songs over the years. They begin to use the songs to learn the names of the other children in their class, they begin to develop a sense of how rhymes work (which sounds like a basic skill, but it is hugely important to literacy) and they begin to see that the teacher is the central figure and authority in the class–she is, after all, the one leading the songs and reading the books. In addition, the repetition and routine that accompany circle time helps the child to gain a sense of control over the process. Children learn best through repetition (although it can sometimes drive their parents crazy), and knowing what movements go along with each song allows the children to get a sense of mastery in this activity. In addition, the fact that the teachers create the same routine around circle time allows the children to get comfortable with the flow of class. They learn that song time comes before snack time, or before the parents separate, and they can relax into that routine and concentrate their energies on learning through play.

Our oldest ECFE classes find the children learning that the structured time has expectations for behavior. This is what will lead them to success in preschool, kindergarten and beyond. They are asked to sit in the circle for circle time, they are asked to take turns and delay gratification (they may see the delightful scarves and want to throw them in the air, but they need to wait until the teacher hands them out–they can not just run en mass and grab them).

Individual children may be working on specific skills within the context of circle time. Teachers are always most concerned with ensuring the safety of all the children–no middle of the circle crashes–but in addition teachers may be working with families to encourage more focused attention, or body awareness and personal space awareness, or even comfort in separation at a certain level from a parent. For this reason, in the older classes, you may see more focused attention on certain skills. If you have a question about why things are operating in a particular way with circle time, be sure to ask your teacher. They are happy to share their reasoning with you.

Parents often learn to love circle time because there is an opportunity to learn songs that engage their children. Often the time between being a child yourself and having your own children is just long enough to forget the words to many of the favorite songs children love. Parents also learn that the method of singing can have a significant effect on the way their children learn. Practicing songs in a slow, paced manner will help children attune to the song and the words. Learning the songs, the finger plays, and methods of soothing activities can help parents when they are looking for play experiences that are genuine, beneficial, social and relaxing. The children recognize the songs and games outside of class and love the experience of re-playing them in their own homes.

There is often an opportunity to gain insight into child development as well as your individual’s personality through circle time. In the early years we notice that some children tend to sit comfortably with a parent and never dream of moving–they may or may not be singing, but they are certainly sitting still. Other children enjoy getting to move in and out of the circle.  They are listening and attending to the songs even if they aren’t sitting in the circle, but they aren’t yet interested in sitting through it all. Teachers see both of these approaches as typical. Parents can gain an understanding of how their child engages with the world by watching their activity level during circle time. Often, the best approach for parents is to remain in the circle and continue to take part in the activities. The child will, in time, realize that the special time with the parent is worth staying in the circle.

Circle time is a delight for all the participants in an ECFE class. It is a special time for parents and children, as well as a purposefully crafted learning experience by teachers. Most of all, circle time should be FUN, so enjoy this special time during class with your child!

What is the “Best” Preschool?

As shocking as it might seem to those of us just trying to slog through the winter months, it is time to jump into action and plan for the preschool year next September.

The process of choosing a preschool for your child can seem overwhelming, as it is the first time for many parents that they are asked to delve into the details of their child’s academic future. What parents remember doing in school as children does not always correspond to how schools are engaged in teaching now. In addition, preschool memories are at best murky for parents, and sometimes we overlay how we learned in elementary school onto what we expect out of a preschool. As parents it is important for us to remember that the needs and development of a three-year-old are vastly different from the academic needs of a third or fourth grader.

It is overwhelming to start learning about all of this just at the time when you are expected to meet registration deadlines. It is, after all, winter. We should all be snug under a blanket reading a good book to our children rather than working so hard to plan for something months and months away. This is why the early childhood staff of Hopkins offers this list of advice and criteria to help you make the best judgment as to which preschool system would suit your child’s and your family’s needs.

When deciding how to best judge a preschool, the early childhood staff suggests assessing the following areas. Pay careful attention to the details in each of these areas, and then decide what provides the best environment for your child. Remember, there are a wide variety of preschools in our community, and they offer a wide variety of programs. Schools sometimes market perks to parents which may not match what your child needs from a preschool. Look carefully at each program and see how it will work best for your own individual child, rather than deciding beforehand what is “best” based on marketing materials.

The first way to assess a program is by looking at the building itself and understanding the program details. This includes understanding how the preschool operates, and how this will affect you as a parent. Understand the communication system used by the school and the teachers. How will you know what went on during the day? How will your questions or concerns be addressed during the course of the school year? In addition, find out how you can be involved in the classroom activities. Are there volunteer opportunities that you can take advantage of? Are there activities within the classroom that you will be invited to join? Another program detail to address is whether or not there is an advisory board for the school. Do parents have a formal opportunity to provide insight, work with the teachers, and help to meet the goals of the program? It is also helpful to find out if parents arrange play dates for the classmates outside of class time. This can build deeper connections between the students.

Look to see the level of diversity within the classes. A wide variety of cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and worldly experiences in the classroom provide a rich experience for the children. When assessing this aspect of the program, it is important to understand how the school celebrates holidays and yearly rituals. In what ways are families invited to share their traditions and experiences? A parent needs to be comfortable with the way the teachers will be celebrating and talking about these sorts of events throughout the year.  So much of a young child’s “work” is learning the social graces of getting along with others. Building a strong foundation of respect for all people based on day-to-day familiarity is a fantastic way to teach children how to get along with others.

When looking at the classroom, examine what is being displayed on the walls. The artwork, pictures, and posters used to decorate the room can provide clear insight into the daily activities of the classroom. Assess what the teachers are using to represent their methods of teaching and the outcomes of their lessons.

Get to know the staff. Minnesota state law requires that the ratio of children to adults in a preschool program is 10:1. Remember, the staff of a program are much more important than what a simple ratio tells you. The teacher is your child’s first introduction to the joy of school. Therefore, it is beneficial to know as much as you can about this person. For instance, what is the expected education level of the teachers in the school? What is the process for teacher development and staff training? How many years of experience has the teacher had with preschool children? It is helpful to understand the teacher turnover rate within a program. Teachers who have stayed with a program for a length of time often have a genuine love of what is going on within that program.

Interaction between children and staff is important to watch. Does the teacher make an effort most of the time to get on the child’s level to communicate? Are the teacher’s words developmentally appropriate and easily understood by the children? Does the teacher model the sorts of behaviors expected of the children? These sorts of interactions provide the environment that your child will be entering every day, so make sure you are comfortable with what you see.

It is helpful to get a sense of what we as parents expect of a preschool, but it is also important to have an understanding of what the program will expect of your child. Often preschool programs require that your child be potty trained. Some children have a difficult time meeting this expectation. Remember that the preschool program is asking that the children who enter their program are potty trained, they are not expecting that all children who are between the ages of 2 ½ and 3 ½ be potty trained. If your child is not yet potty trained, do not feel pressure to “catch up” to others. Pressuring a child to perform in this area in order to meet a deadline for school could cause many difficulties around potty training. Preschool registration can happen whenever your child has reached this milestone.

It is important to understand what self-help skills will be required of your child throughout the day. Are there things that you are currently doing for your child that they will be asked to do for themselves during the school day? Can your child manage with clothes and outerwear (for instance jacket, mittens, hat)? Will the students be expected to pour milk or water from a small pitcher? When the teachers sing the “clean up song”, what will the children be expected to help with? What will the teachers be asking of your child, and how can you practice these skills now to create success in preschool?

Teachers expect that children will be learning many skills during the preschool years. Some of these are the academic foundations for later learning, but much of preschool is geared toward helping children learn to get along with each other, learn to follow rules in a group, learn to adjust to the demands of a school day. This is a very difficult shift for children, and requires a lot of energy from them. Throughout the school year it is likely that all children will have some sort of difficulty with meeting these expectations. Teachers expect that there will be challenging behaviors from children and between children. It is important for a parent to understand what the behavior expectations of the students are, and how the staff will handle the situation when expectations are not being met. Parents need to feel comfortable with the system of discipline used within the preschool system.

The teachers should also expect children to be excited and lively and engaged in the activities that are provided for them. When observing the classroom, check to see that the day-to-day environment provides a place for children to explore and enjoy their surroundings. Children learn best when they are immersed in something that interests them greatly, surrounded by people who care about their well-being and encouraged to “dive in” to activities that are developmentally appropriate. Teachers should expect children to do just that within the classroom.

Preschool curriculum. A quality preschool curriculum is, as often as possible, open-ended and play based. This means that activities for learning do not have a definite “right” or “wrong” answer, but that the materials encourage exploration and understanding through play. The preschool program should not have all the children doing the same thing at the same time in the same way.

It is important to note, however, that most preschool programs have a certain amount of time set aside for “group time”. In this instance, all the children are expected to do the same thing at the same time. This group time generally includes story time, songs, calendar activities and special seasonal events. This portion of the school day usually lasts about as long as a three-year-old’s attention span — somewhere between 10-20 minutes.

The preschool should be set up to incorporate a variety of activities. For instance, it is important to understand how the large motor needs of your child will be addressed. Is there a large play space or gym? What is the school’s policy for playing outside? In addition to training the small motor skills of your child through art work and more detail-oriented activities, the large motor movements of your child should be daily addressed.

A portion of the classroom should encourage dramatic play—the acting out of the roles that children come into contact with every day. For instance, a “house” area is usually a favorite of children in preschool. Other ideas that the teacher might have throughout the year are “store” , “bakery”, or “fire house”. These role-playing activities are beneficial for your child’s social / emotional health as well as the development of their “world view”. Preschools often avoid popular culture toys and play items. Items that are already “labeled” (by already having a name, such as Sponge Bob, or Dora) tend to be played with in prescriptive ways. Often preschools will avoid these sorts of character toys and use more generic items, which allow children to explore different ways to play with them. Other play areas to look for in the classroom are: a library area that is soft and comfortable and invites students to page through books at their own pace for enjoyment, an arts area that invites open-ended projects, a sand/water table that encourages sensory experiences, separate and distinct areas of the classroom that allow free movement from one activity to another.

Assessing progress throughout the year. What does a “successful” year in preschool mean to the school, and how will they show that your child has accomplished this? What formal and informal tools are they using to understand what your child is learning throughout the year? It is important that a parent is comfortable with the curriculum goals of the school, and comfortable with how those goals are being assessed in the student.

Another piece of sage advice to heed is to make sure the school will be a good match to your own individual child. When observing, find a child in the classroom who has the same characteristics as your child. For instance, is your child shy around groups of people? Is your child active and have the need to burn lots of energy? Do you have a child who tends to concentrate for long periods on one activity? Find a child in the classroom who best matches your own child and see how the staff interacts with that child. Find out how the staff and the environment meet that child’s needs. In this way you will have an idea of how your own child might flourish in this environment.

Ultimately, understanding how your preschool of choice operates and what their goals are will help you to feel confident it is the right place for your child. As a parent you will make the most informed decision because you know best what your child needs. Take the time to assess the schools you are interested in, and then feel comfortable that the decision you make for your child will begin a wonderful school career!

Family Mealtime Frustration

This time of year families tend to focus on feasting. We eat to celebrate, we share a meal when we get together with family and friends, and sometimes we eat just because we are so cold!

With all of this eating happening around us, it can be troubling to have a toddler who is in the habit of refusing to eat! However, it is common during the toddler years to become more selective and opinionated about food. What can a parent do? The early childhood staff of Hopkins Public Schools would like to share some tips and ideas to help your family meal-times feel fun – not frustrated.

It is helpful to remember that toddler behavior is often erratic, so it isn’t surprising that your young child will like a food one day and decide she doesn’t like it the next. The power struggle that erupts around food is often due to the toddler’s desire to assert her independence, not because she has any real or lasting opinion about the food on the table. The more we see their whims as being permanent, the more we reinforce their selective behavior. For this reason, keep family meals as stress-free as you can manage. Don’t let your child think that her eating is more important to you than it is to her.

  • Make meal time enjoyable – sit with your child and eat with her. Your toddler loves your company, it makes every activity more enjoyable and longer lasting.
  • Allow your child to experience her food fully – even though it creates a mess. Children are sensory creatures – then need to really “get into” food to enjoy it. A mess-free meal will be a future goal, but for now the mess is leading to a joy around food.
  • Have a place and time for eating established in your routine. When it is time to eat a meal or snack, sit down at the table and make space for doing so. Allow your child to eat as much or as little as she wants. Keep meal times and snack times short to respect their natural attention span. Ten to 20 minutes is enough time to eat. If your child is dropping food or playing more than eating, then she is telling you she is finished even if it hasn’t been the full mealtime.
  • Three meals and two snacks will allow your child the opportunity to eat every 2-3 hours. Between these times, don’t offer food – only water. If your child is not eating between the scheduled times to eat, her body will naturally grow hungry and ready for the next scheduled meal.
  • If your child refuses to eat at the scheduled time, honor her assertion that she is not hungry. Children need to eat a lot less than adults to feel full. We all know how uncomfortable it is to over-eat, and children have much smaller stomachs than we do. Your child will certainly survive a skipped meal or snack –especially if you and she both know there is another eating opportunity within the next 2 hours.
  • A child may need to see or experience a food 10-20 times before he is comfortable trying it. This does not make him a picky eater – simply cautious about trying new things. This is a great strategy for young children – if they jumped into new things constantly they would be in grave danger most of the time.
  • When you serve a new food that might be challenging for your child, be sure to have something that you know your child usually likes. Then allow your child to decide when he picks up the new food. If he refuses or doesn’t seem interested the first 19 times, don’t pressure. Remember, this is very typical behavior for toddlers.
  • Parents often have an influence on their child’s eating that they don’t even realize. If you have been referring to your toddler as a “picky eater”, she will believe that is what she is. Even if your toddler is going through a phase of refusing food, avoid talking about it with her or to others as a permanent situation; it won’t be. In addition, be mindful of how you present food to your toddler. If you are making a face when serving a healthy vegetable, your daughter will understand quickly that you don’t like the food. If you don’t like it, there is no reason for her to try it!
  • The more matter of fact we can be around food during the toddler and preschool years, the less likely your toddler will be to engage in a power struggle. To be sure – every toddler will attempt to engage in a power struggle, but if his parent simply doesn’t engage then there is no “game” to play over food. The fact that he ends up hungry and waiting for the next meal only creates more of an incentive for him to get to the business of eating the next time your family sits down to the table.

Daylight Savings and Your Toddler

Sleep is rarely easy in households with very young children. Just when a pattern seems to develop and the family routine includes a longer stretch of sleep, something happens that upends our restless nights.

The one hour adjustment for Daylight Savings can make a significant difference in the sleep patterns of many young children. Their rhythms for waking and sleeping are fragile at best, and this time adjustment can be hard for them to adjust to.

The staff at Harley Hopkins wanted to offer some strategies for helping your family smooth the transition to this hourly change.

  • A week before the change, begin adjusting your child’s bedtime by 10-15 minute increments.  Every other day of the week, move her bedtime up by this small among of time. When the official change happens, her inner clock won’t sense such a big difference.
  • It can take up to a week for the change to fully be incorporated into your child’s inner rhythm. Be patient with them as they wake earlier or resist sleep in the evening.
  • If you regularly wake your child in the morning, continue to wake them at the time you normally do, according to the adjusted clock. Morning waking has an effect on night-time sleeping.
  • Have a bright, sunny, and active morning each day of the week after the daylight savings change happens. Being active in the morning helps a child to develop a sense of the flow of the day. An active morning encourages a regular pattern of active / rest /active /rest throughout the day.
  • Keep a routine throughout your day for meals, naps and activity. Feed your child at regular intervals, and have a nap or rest time at regular times. Your child will be able to count on their biological needs being attended to at regular intervals, and their body will begin to internalize the schedule.

Daylight savings time is often difficult for us all – but especially difficult for families with young children. Use these strategies to successfully navigate the change this year.

Fall Fun!

The changing seasons mean cooler temperatures, shorter days, beautiful trees and a bounty of fall activities! Fall is a perfect time to build some new traditions with your family whether it be something as simple as a nature walk to admire the fall foliage or something more involved like a trip to pick apples for a delicious homemade pie.

Traditions are a great way to build a sense of family and security in your young ones. Traditions bring meaning and purpose to family time and, as research is increasingly showing, are what help teens feel attachment to their family as they’re making their way towards independence.

This may seem like a daunting task, but forming a new tradition is simply about finding something your family enjoys and continuing to do it year after year. Inevitably what the activities look like will change from 2-year-old to 12-year-old, but the fundamental aspects remain the same: time together that you look forward to each year.

The following are some ideas to help get you started!

  • Apple Orchards. Minnesota has an amazing selection of apple orchards open in the early fall ranging from small “pick them yourself” farms to larger, more commercial farms that offer activities and food galore. Each has it’s own charm, its simply a matter of what you are in the mood for!
  • Nature Drives and Walks. Fall colors can amaze even the tiniest of passenger. Plan a family excursion to an out of the way destination, pack a picnic and take in all the beauty that surrounds you. Older toddler and preschoolers would love collecting leaves to take home and press or make sketchings of. Younger babies enjoy watching the wind blow the through the trees.
  • Embrace the Pumpkin Spice craze and do some family baking! Children love to help in the kitchen and are more compelled to try new foods if they have a hand in preparing it. Take a trip to the farmers market (or grocery store) for the “special ingredients” and work with your child to create a delicious new treat.

Think back to when you were growing up. Were there activities that you just came to expect each year? What memories stick out to you about those? What memories would you like to create for your own children?

 

 

 

Boo! Young Children and Halloween

Halloween is a time for scares, tricks, and spooky stories, right? Some young children seem ready to embrace Halloween and all the scariness that it has to offer, and some children are much more likely to hide from the ghosts and goblins. As a parent, this time of year helps you to quickly learn what your child is able to handle in terms of thrills and excitement.

Children under the age of seven still have the tendency to confuse fantasy and reality, and so the child who looks like he is enjoying a thrill may later that day become scared about what he saw.

The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center has discussed ideas for helping you navigate the spooky stuff in a way that best meets your child’s attitude toward the holiday. Here are some of our tips:

1. Halloween really celebrates spooky, but sometimes the excitement of the holiday can be too much for our youngest children. Parents often need to advocate for their child. Control the environment and expose children only to what they are ready to handle. If a party is getting too scary,  go home. Avoid areas of the store that might have Halloween displays that are too scary. If your child sees someone in a scary mask, you could ask that person to take off the mask to confirm with your child that it is just a costume, not real.

2. Our children need us to follow their lead during this holiday. This means we respect what they are willing and able to do during Halloween. We love to see kids in costumes, and we remember our own years of joyfully running in our outlandish outfits and gathering all that candy. However, young children may not be willing to even put on a costume. This is very common for the young child because the costume itself may be uncomfortable, or the child is not comfortable “becoming” someone different—even for a day. Masks can be especially difficult for young children to tolerate, as it is extremely difficult to see behind those tiny holes designed for eyes.

If your child is uncomfortable in a costume, acknowledge that this may not be the year for a costume. Parents can help children participate by handing out candy at the door rather than dressing up to trick-or-treat.

3. Are you and your child ready for the excitement of Halloween? Practice what you will be doing that evening. Talk with your child about what to expect. Talk about the people she will see in costumes. Talk a lot about how these people are pretending. Discuss what to say at the door of the neighbor’s house—both “trick-or-treat” and “thank you!” Remind your child that they are not to have any candy until they are back at their house.

4. Remember, also, to keep your expectations realistic: go trick or treating while it is still light out or during dusk (there will be lots of fun years ahead when your child will be old enough to brave the scary dark spooky Halloween experience) and feel free to go home when your child is tired of it (they are usually satisfied with the experience after just a few houses). Lastly, be sure to dress for the weather. Halloween in Minnesota often means the costume is covered by a winter jacket, mittens, scarf, and hat. Better to be warm on Halloween night than to catch a cold that lasts a week or more!

5. Enjoy Halloween with your young child! These sweet years quickly give way to haunted houses and scary parties and nights out with friends. Enjoy as a family the celebration of Halloween as a young child needs to see it.

The staff at the Fred Rogers Company provide more information on dress up, costumes and Halloween. Learn about young children’s idea of pretend and real, and follow their lead on how they want to experience the scariest holiday of the year. This can help your whole family enjoy the spooks and tricks of the season in these early years of childhood.

Our Morning Traffic Flow

The early morning rush tends to get on everyone’s nerves! Fighting slow moving traffic, moving around obstacles that seem to just sit in your way, trying to jumpstart and then outmaneuver everyone around you is just exhausting.

For parents of most young children, this description accurately explains what goes on in your own home in the morning! Often the goals of a parent who is hoping to make it to work on time are completely opposite the goals of your young child who is hoping to just relax all morning long.

How to get everyone out the door, every day, without having to spend so much time banging on the horn?

The early childhood staff of Hopkins Schools would like to offer a roadmap for morning routines.

  • Work with your children to make a routine chart. They can draw pictures if they are young, or write out steps if they are older. Put your children in charge of following the chart – “what comes next?”
  • Do as much preparation the night before as possible: make lunches, put out clothes to wear, organize the backpacks or outerwear.
  • Speak with excitement about what you are going to do. Talk about the thing your child most loves to do where he is going.
  • Provide a simple incentive for getting ready on time: “When we finish breakfast, then we can read your favorite board book.”
  • Make getting ready fun as much as possible. Have songs you sing during certain activities like getting in the car, putting on your jacket, getting out of bed.
  • Give your child a job to do that will provide motivation for getting outside: closing the garage door, carrying the diaper bag, something they can do only when they are out the door.
  • Relax your standards for what it means to be “ready”. Your 2 or 3 year old often looks adorable in less-than-perfect outfits and bedhead hair!
  • Consider what you are modeling when you are getting yourself ready in the morning. If you are feeling rushed, anxious and tense in the mornings, then the rest of your family will as well. Consider getting up 15 minutes earlier to get yourself ready; have your own checklist to ensure you have everything you need, have a special place for important items so you don’t lose them in the morning rush. Our children are learning from what they see us doing.

Mornings are hard on most of us! Use some of these tips to keep the traffic moving in your own household.