So Your Child is Going to Kindergarten!

So Your Child is Going to Kindergarten!

Rani Murdoch Zappa, MA, M. Ed, licensed parent educator

This parent-only workshop is designed to help parents understand what their kindergarten child will experience in kindergarten at Hopkins Public Schools as they continue their educational journey. Parents will hear from an elementary principal and participate in a facilitated conversation with a licensed parent educator. Learn more about kindergarten curriculum and examples of activities, the importance of social skills, and how to help prepare your child for kindergarten.

Parent-only class. For parents of children ages three to five years.
Tuesday, Nov. 14 • 6:30-8:00 pm Harley 25 #703-EF • $10/person, $15/household

Register online or call 952-988-5000.

Summer Simplicity

Sometimes the wide margins of a summer day can lead to wide margins in our parenting style.  Summer often means that the rules are flexible, the routine is less structured, the expectations vary by our energy level. As parents we love the opportunity to relax and let loose. Children greatly appreciate summer as well–the hours and hours of sunlight allowing for play is a great plus. However, it is important they understand that there are still boundaries to their behavior; they are still expected to stay within the limits. Children feel the greatest freedom when they have a clear understanding about the boundaries we are providing.  They may constantly bump up against our limit setting–but that is only to reassure themselves that the limits are still there.

Structure is for the school year–simplicity is for the summer. Here are five simple pointers to keep in mind as you guide your children throughout these wide open months. Finding ways to incorporate these practices will help children to revel in the freedom of the season while feeling secure in the clarity of your expectations:

1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ensure that your child is well rested, well fed and has the energy level for the activities you are going to embark on. We want to fill our days with fun in the summer. However, your child will not be able to keep up with your expectations if she is over-tired or hungry or exhausted from other activities earlier in the day.  Know when to end the day and shift plans to tomorrow.

2. Set clear expectations and consequences. Use simple terms and language to explain what you expect during an activity. If your child is old enough, have them repeat what you have said to be sure they understand. If you all decide together that hitting or pushing on the playground will result in leaving immediately, then it will not be a surprise if you have to leave.

3. Follow through on your limit-setting. Having talked about it before-hand, it is easier to follow through. However, there is a temptation to overlook misbehavior when we know that everyone in the family will have to suffer the consequences of leaving an event. In addition, the extra energy it takes when dealing with an angry child in the heat of summer can tempt us to “let it slide.”  Children are doing their job when they push the limits, they are developmentally designed to push us to see if we will stick to what we said. Although their outward behavior would lead us to believe they are spitting angry, their inward psyche is calmed in knowing that the adult in charge will follow through on what was said. This is what builds trust.

4. Choose your battles. We tend to rush to “no” when our child asks us to do something or we see a new behavior. Parents first job is safety, and the easiest way to maintain safety is to limit behavior. However, remember that when you say no, you will have to follow through. Sometimes it is more effective to say “Let me think about that”, and then go over the situation calmly in your own mind. Is there a way to help your child be safe and successful at this new activity? Is there a compromise you can work out with him so that you can feel safe and he can feel adventurous?  Often, if a young child knows you are willing to think about it, he is willing to give you a few minutes to ponder, and ends up forgetting all about the idea by the time you have made your decision.  🙂

5. Get time for yourself. Children have an unlimited store of energy in the summer time. They simply deny that they are ever tired until they drop from exhaustion. It is mentally and physically difficult to keep up with them every minute of every day. Find ways to replenish your own energy store. This may be as simple as a 10 minutes walk around the block. A quiet space of time or a phone call with a friend can do wonders for our own abilities to keep up with our children.



Pacifier Practicalities

Babies and toddlers are lucky when they find a way to soothe themselves early in life.  Many young children soothe themselves orally with the use of a pacifier or a thumb.  Parents have often seen the power of a well placed “paci”, and when children are very young the adults around them are happy to encourage sucking as a method for keeping calm.

As children get older there tends to be more discomfort at the continued use of this strategy for self-soothing. The early childhood staff at Harley discussed the various approaches to thumb / paci use, and thought we would share our thoughts on how to approach your child’s use of these methods throughout the early years.

Both the ECFE early childhood staff  and the American Dental Association (ADA) agree that sucking on a thumb or pacifier is a good strategy for self-soothing. The ADA states that a parent should discourage the use of this habit when the child turns four years old; due to it’s potential at that time to negatively affect teeth.

A child is likely to naturally move away from this habit between the ages of two and four, because the focus for the child becomes more about exploring the world around her. This deepening interest in the world and active participation in activities tend to shove out the habit of sucking on a thumb or pacifier.

When a child has found a habit for soothing that is successful and helps her to meet the world with more strength, we as parents can feel comfortable encouraging that habit, even in the face of comments from disapproving strangers or relatives. Babies and toddlers face a lot of challenging situations because so many things are new and difficult for them. If a child has found a way to meet those challenges, we can allow that strategy to work for them.

As your child gets older,she is well served by gently setting limits on where she can use the pacifier or suck her thumb. A child is most likely to need the comfort when she is tired or facing some stress. We can first limit its use in situations where the child feels comfortable and there is little stress.  In a situation where a parent limits the use of a pacifier, it is highly recommended that something is provided to replace the support and comfort that the pacifier or thumb sucking represents. A stuffed animal, doll or “lovey” can be encouraged. If your child is asked to leave her pacifier at home, give her the option to choose a “special spot” for the cherished object while it is left at home. In this way, your child will know that it is safe at and waiting for her during her nap or bed time.

If the limit setting is pushed too early, and it is difficult for your child to comply, it is likely that she is not yet developmentally ready to let go of this method for soothing herself.  If your child is not yet four years old, feel free to take a break from this limit setting and come back to it a little later. Your child will ultimately be able to stop this habit, but it may be more on her time schedule than yours.

Children are designed to push themselves and to grow up. They do this by meeting challenges and stress every day. They persevere through difficulty, they struggle through problems and they push themselves to achieve regularly. If your toddler has found a strategy to help her through these early-year uphill climbs, be proud of her ability to self-soothe. She will meet the challenge of shifting her habits when her age and her development allow her to be ready for it.

Dealing With Sibling Conflict

Siblings fight. It’s an almost unavoidable fact of life. At times, its actually impressive how much and just what they can fight over. Before I had children it had never crossed my mind that it was possible to fight over who “gets” to plunge a toilet, who is breathing too much air, who is in charge of the SpongeBob underwear and/or who has to have the excruciatingly painfully difficult task of shutting the car door after they get out. But alas, fight often and fight hard they do.

At times the bickering can simply be ignored and the parenting approach of “let them figure it out” can be employed. At other times, the times when the tears are flowing, the names are being called and the arms are being flailed, its time for some parental intervention – a task that is not always easy.

It can be hard for a rational adult to step into a battle over something trivial and find a way to navigate the fight respectfully. My own instinct is to point out how extremely illogical my offspring are being while providing a wordy lecture about how they can just walk away, let it go, how it doesn’t matter in the great scope of life.

While wonderfully profound, this tactic never works.

Other times, in my less peaceful parenting moments, I just want to yell at them to leave each other alone and inform them that they are being crazy.

Not a winning idea either.

What I and many other parents have instead found helpful is a more simple, direct approach of inserting yourself into the disagreement; empathetically listening to both sides, briefly and succinctly reflecting those feelings back to both parties, and then asking for a solution. No choosing sides, no placing blame, no lecturing; just hearing, acknowledging, and looking for a solution together.

“I see that you are mad at your sister for touching your toy and I see that you are hurt because she yelled at you about it.”

“Can you tell me why you touched her toy?”

“Why did that upset you?”

“What would you have liked to happen?”

“Is there a way you could have asked to touch the toy/not touch the toy more calmly? How can I help you two to make this better?”

By staying an impartial party in the fight you are keeping your power neutral and showing your children that they have the power to solve their situation. You are also helping them to see that their feelings are valid and understood, but that they don’t have to last forever. By modeling calmness and understanding while searching for a solution we are showing them that conflict is ok and a natural part of life, and also something that they can solve themselves.

This may seem like a big task for 2-5 year olds to accomplish, but you may be surprised when you put it into action. Children are often much more capable than we allow them to be and (with the right guidance and space to practice) can often help us to “parent” situations a bit less.

For our younger kiddos, a simplified, parent led version can be useful. You still insert yourself into the situation, lay down the boundary (I won’t let you hit/yell/take toys/etc), validate the feeling (I can see that you are very frustrated with the baby), ask for what they’d want (Is there something I can do to help you feel less frustrated?) and then work together toward a solution (since I won’t let you ____, what could we do instead when you’re feeling frustrated?)

Again, by taking a neutral stance and allowing for feelings –and not placing blame or shame—we are helping to navigate the tricky world of conflict, and teaching skills that they will carry throughout their lives.

Conflict is inevitable, but with some mindful planning we can all learn to navigate it more effectively…most of the time. It’s also important to be kind to yourself when things don’t go as smoothly. We all get overwhelmed and lose our cool at times. The key is to remember that there is great power in addressing a not so great situation later on, apologizing and stating what you wish you had done. Children learn from what we DO even more than from what we say, so take the opportunity to show that you too make mistakes while also showing them how to make up for them.

At the end of the day, even a day full of fighting, bickering and tears, take a moment to reflect on the good you see in your children’s relationship—the way your toddler brought the baby her favorite nuk; how your older child made sure to save a cookie for their little brother; how they squealed and laughed together in the bathtub—because these are the moments they will remember and the moments that make all the hard times much more tolerable.

What is ECFE?

ECFE is a program unique to Minnesota that serves all families with children ages newborn through 5 years old. It is structured as a parent education program that focuses on helping to build the relationship between parents and their children with an emphasis on parents truly being their children’s first teacher.

Our classes vary in structure from non-separating infant and early toddler classes, to gradually separating toddler classes, with the eventual goal of separating classes so parents and children spend equal time together and apart.

Our classes are taught by state licensed teachers (both early childhood and parent educators) who go through consistent continuing education to keep current on the latest research, trends and best practices for our classrooms.   We are dedicated professionals who truly believe in the value of early education and are passionate about reaching as many families as possible.

The pride we take in our work is reflected in our classroom space and materials, as each week we plan specific lessons tailored to the needs of our students. Our classrooms are separated into different learning stations where we can provide families with opportunities to explore sensory materials, art, dramatic play, literacy and STEM activities, and small and large motor experiences.

Each activity is planned for and based on specific state mandated indicators of quality that have been proven to best support a child’s development at any given age. We focus strongly on the social-emotional aspects of children (self-regulation, turn taking, sharing, playing together) and truly believe in the power of play as a way of teaching the whole child and preparing them for future school success.

Our classrooms are also set up to be an environment where children can feel relaxed and welcome to play. From our child sized bathroom facilities, tables and gym equipment, everything is designed with a child’s success in mind. We value allowing children to have a space that is designed with “Yes you can” in mind because it supports their feelings of confidence and mastery in a time where the fight for power/control can often be overwhelming (for both parent and child!)

Our parent educators also follow state guidelines for best practices and follow a core curriculum to help parents feel supported in their parenting. The goal in any parent education situation is never to tell you HOW to parent—as we believe that there truly is no one “right” way– but to rather provide you with tools and context so you can feel confident in your parenting decisions. We know how vulnerable being a parent can feel, especially when asked to share about challenges you may be facing, but every effort is made to make the classes an inclusive and welcoming environment.

A typical parent education class will cover any community announcements, parenting joys or concerns that came up during the week and then an organized, research based discussion around a topic that the participants have chosen. These range from discussions on discipline, to sleep habits, to potty training, to figuring out how to carve out time to take care of yourself. No one is ever forced to share and respectful communication/privacy is valued at all times. As a program, we value a diverse community because it helps us all to grow and expand our perspective, which is an integral part of the parenting experience. Great comfort can be taken in the fact that families from all over the world share in some of the same struggles and successes we do! It is also eye opening to learn of different ways to handle situations that might not be our first instinct. Parenting within a community can help us all to feel a bit better because we know we aren’t alone in situations and that we aren’t crazy—our parent educators are dedicated to helping set a context for all parenting issues, challenges and successes.

Overall, ECFE is a place to connect, grow and learn from others. It is a small step in helping families within our communities build the “village” that is missing from so many of our lives. Many of our participants have formed life long friendships in our classes and still connect on a regular basis—the same is true with staff!

We’d love to hear any questions you may have about our programs!

We would also love to hear about any experiences you have had with our program—what would you tell others about us?

A Parent’s Guide to the ECFE Classroom

Early Childhood is a magical time of learning in many different ways. Children learn through doing, watching, playing, decision-making and, perhaps most commonly, touching.

Our ECFE classrooms are designed with all these aspects of learning in mind. We intentionally design our learning space and activities with a child’s perspective as our guiding focus. Materials are kept at their level, touching and experimenting is encouraged, and space is given for them to choose the activity that appeals to them.

Because this is so different from the way that many of our structured “grown-up” worlds work, we put together a 3 step guide to navigating our classrooms with your child.

  • Activities are set out as suggestions for play, there is no right or wrong way to engage in them. The best way to approach the activities is to take your child’s lead and then talk to them about what they are doing. For younger children you can narrate what you see them doing “I see that you are stacking those blocks…” For older children you can ask them open ended questions that help you to understand their process and to help expand on the way they are thinking “I like the way you used that blue paint, what do you think would happen if you added another color?” Simply being present and engaged in their playing is impactful to their development and any conversation is going to help boost their continually growing vocabulary!
  • Not every area needs to be used! If your child is fascinated by the sensory table for the entire class, that’s fine! Children have a way of intentionally working on things that they are hoping to master. Sometimes the simple action of filling a cup and dumping it out is building mathematical or scientific understanding in their brains. Cars and ramp play also stimulates parts of their brains that we may not completely understand, but no play is wasted play. Embrace where they are and try to see their play choices through their eyes.
  • It’s ok to be messy! We believe that process-focused art and sensory experiences are an important part of the learning experience. All of our materials are as washable as possible and we are pros at cleaning up the “oopses” that are bound to happen. Feel free to have them wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, take advantage of our painting smocks and don’t worry if the mess gets on the table! Think of our classroom as the safe spot for all that is gloriously messy and also as the spot for all that you may not want to do at home.

Talking with Young Children about Current Events

We have just experienced an election season filled with emotion. Many parents are asking about ways they can help their preschooler understand the messages they may be hearing, and how families can focus on the points around this election that are important to them.

The PBSParents web site offers communication strategies for talking about news and current events in general. The recommendations that have been paraphrased below can be applied to the news we have been hearing and will continue to hear over the next months around the election, as well as other news events as they arise.  Use these tips to keep communication about the news developmentally appropriate for what your child needs:

Communication Strategies for Preschoolers:

It’s not necessary to discuss events on the news, unless you know your preschooler has been exposed to them. If you’re aware of this or observe changes in her behavior, you probably should discuss the news event in age-appropriate ways. Changes to look for might include increased interest in war-related play — pretending blocks are missiles, for instance — or behavior that is out of character with your child, such as increased difficulty with separation or trouble going to sleep.

However, it is useful to discuss news that is connected to your preschooler’s life. “The news is a way of learning about the world, so early discussion about your young child’s experiences in the world sets the stage for more in-depth discussions as your child gets older,” says Diane Levin, Ph.D. “These discussions can come out of day-to-day activities you do together. “Talk about the weather outside and then watch the weather report or listen to it, talk about an election when you take your child to the polls, and talk about recycling as you put the cans out together.”

If your child has a question, ask what she knows in an open-ended way. You might ask, “What do you know about that?” and then answer your child’s question in an age-appropriate way. “Finding out what your child understands about what she has seen or heard will help guide your response. It’s not just the fears you want to deal with, you may want to clear up confusions and misconceptions that may be scaring your children. You don’t need to over-explain in ways that are not age-appropriate but you do want to clear up the confusion,” advises Diane Levin, Ph.D.

Explain that you are safe. When children hear or see a scary event on the news, they often relate it to themselves and may feel directly threatened. Reassuring your child that he is safe and that this news is not happening here should help him feel secure. Reviewing and maintaining routines can be comforting as well. For example, you might explain what time you will be home, who will pick your child up from school and what your plans are for the weekend.

Provide art materials, blocks, dolls, and stuffed animals. Playing with these objects will help your child explore what she feels. In a response to a specific news story, offer related props for the play. (Provide toy cars if your child talks about the police cars on the news or in the neighborhood, for example.)

Snuggle and cuddle. As you would with an even younger child, offer lots of cuddling and hugs, and be patient and sensitive to changes in patterns of eating, sleeping and toileting.

Listen carefully. Find out what your child has to say about the news. There is no “right way” of thinking about a topic and your young child will interpret it differently than you. So listen to what he says and base what you say on his interpretation, not your own.