Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Classroom Energy Flow

We ECE teachers/providers talk a lot about our school/child care environment, curriculum, discipline, assessments, classroom management, etc. One of THE most important elements in a classroom, that never seems to be talked about, except how to squelch it, is the energy. 

However, the energy within a child or classroom can be directed and manipulated in such a way that it enhances, rather than detracts, from the learning environment and objectives.

I've been talking about this quite a bit in forums and with my clients over the last six months, and I am amazed at just how much effort care givers spend in stopping, repressing, or disciplining children's energy. 


First, we have to acknowledge that each individual child, and ourselves, have a common energy level. It may vacillate due to those around us and the activities at hand, but in general, each person has a fairly set energy level. Some are high energy, naturally, while some are low.

Second, we have to acknowledge that there is a common energy level between certain children, certain groups of children, and naturally occurring in certain activity situations. For example, I have two 3-year-old boys, one of whom is high energy and one is medium energy, but when they get together, the energy sky rockets. They egg one another up the scale until they need to be separated to come down from it.

Third, we have to acknowledge that we are usually most comfortable with others of an energy level similar to our own. While a young man in college may have ample patience and energy to play and corral some high energy children, an older woman with low energy will usually have little patience for rough housing and high energy children. Someone with high energy, may be constantly trying to entice the low energy children to join in more active games and activities, pushing them out of their comfort zone.
I call this the flow of energy. Each person, and the environment and activities, contribute to the flow of energy in a classroom. It is an INNATE PART of each person and what is going on. Yet, we tend to think of it as something easily manipulated and controlled to the level we, as care givers, perceive to be the "appropriate" energy level at the time. 

We see this in many classroom management practices such as the stoplight, where children are no longer allowed to talk once the stoplight for loudness reaches the red zone. So the energy, and decibel level, ramps up and up, then it is supposed to instantly lower to zero. Hmmm. 

Go for a good run and then try to get your heart rate to instantly get back into the normal zone or below it. Doesn't work that well. What if you were in the middle of a run, in your groove, and someone said to stop and sit down and be still. I know I wouldn't be happy. Same for children and their energy. 

I look at the energy of the individual and class as a flowing stream. If you dam it up, the pressure becomes explosive, overflows the restrictions, and you have children misbehaving. If you channel it, you move that energy into appropriate activity until it slows to a controllable level or runs out. 

For example, I observed at a very well-known franchise in their 3-year-old class in the morning. The children were using the large cardboard blocks to build very large towers, which would fall over and the children were laughing uproariously. This was a very high energy group doing a high energy activity. At 8:00 a.m., it was now time to do circle time and all twelve 3-year-olds were told to pick up and sit in a circle, criss-cross-applesauce-spoons-in-the-bowl, still and quiet. 

The teacher began to go slowly around the circle asking each child a question. The other teacher kept correcting children to sit still, sit properly, don't touch your neighbor, etc. The wiggles just kept getting worse, and the teachers' patience started to erode and the corrections became more curt, etc. By the end of 20 minutes, the teachers were angry, the children upset, three were in time-out, and the purpose, and any learning potential, of the activity was forgotten. 

A) A three-year-old's attention span is approximately 5 minutes, so the activity was not developmentally appropriate.

B) There was absolutely no transition of the energy level from very high to the expectation of sitting still, quiet, and being patient. [They are THREE!]

At a smaller, high-end child care, I observed a young 2-year-old class. It was open play when I got there. The children were running, climbing, squealing and having a great time. Again, the teachers decided to do a curriculum activity of rolling a ball. The little ones were sat in a line and a teacher rolled the ball to the first child who picked it up and started playing with it. She kept trying to get the child to roll it back. 

The other teacher was changing a child's diaper, and most of the children quickly wandered off. The second teacher finished and brought the other children back and sat them in line, and kept doing it, bringing to mind the term, "herding cats." The same exact issues of developmentally appropriate activity and expectation, along with the absence of energy transition, were in play, with the same results.

Being Reggio inspired, I naturally look to the children for what we should be doing. They also have the option of participating in activities or not. Some children may be coloring or doing small-world play, while others are jumping, spinning, or doing a high-energy activity. If we are going to be doing something as a group that I would like everyone's participation in, then I will purposefully tire out my high-energy kiddos first, or do the activity in a naturally low-energy time period. 

For instance, these two are obviously interested in stories and at a low energy level. It would make sense to do story time now.

If misbehavior occurs due to high energy, putting a child in time-out, stopping the flow of energy, is just not the right response. I have them jump, crawl, or move that energy until it dissipates and they are in control of it. If they say, "Can I stop now?" Then I know they need just a bit more, a few more seconds, of high energy activity. 

If you tell a child in high energy to move, they won't balk, but gladly do it. It is what they need. Once they are tired out and in control, then they can rejoin. Often, other children will join in the "discipline" because they, too, have energy to release. 

It's become so normal for me to recognize high energy, that I will usually do this as a preventative measure rather than a disciplinary measure now. 

If we do high energy activities at a high enough level to use up all their energy, then I can go straight to a low energy activity such as story time. Usually though, we take it up and down in increments. Being play and movement based, the children here are never expected to just sit still and quiet. After all, they are children. That is nearly impossible and not developmentally appropriate practice until about age 8, if then. 

We will do story time, then maybe table activities which they move from one to another but is mainly fine-motor, then a gross-motor activity, then back to a combination fine and gross-motor activity, then down to a fine-motor activity again. We will transition from a high-energy activity to picking up, which requires a lot of movement but focus and fine-motor as well, then sit down to eat which is a low-energy activity, then straight to nap, which is even lower energy. I try to have the energy flow smoothly in a wave, rather than have any harsh changes asked of them. 

This is NOT a good time for sit work.

I've been asked what to do with high-energy kiddos at home. Trying to force the energy down usually leaves in its wake tantrums, misbehavior, discipline, etc. Parents are now flowing the energy to walks, backyard play time, mini-trampolines, horizontal climbing walls, doorway gyms, jumping/twirling/crawling, dance videos, and yoga videos, rather than expecting the child to simply bring their energy down from high when the high energy is still wound up. 

They say it has made a big difference in their child's attitude, their attitudes, and the family dynamic evenings and weekends. If it happens at a restaurant or such, they are now taking the child outside to jump or run, rather than expecting a 3-year-old to get their energy under control in a public place with nothing much to do.

With it being -20 windchill this week, we are stuck inside. Yesterday we did dance party, Five Little Monkeys about 5 times, Ring Around the Rosie about 15 times, etc. All to get the wiggles out of the high energy kiddos. The low energy kiddos looked on as they sat quietly doing their activities. To each his own.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Functional Learning vs. Rote Teaching

Our education system likes to teach. A lesson + an activity = you should know this and be assessed on it. Learning is not like that. Learning is incremental scaffolding through discovery and processing over time.

There is a huge difference between knowing something and being able to USE information in a continuous learning process. Some information floats around and is picked up as a type of appetizer, nice but not filling and while it serves a purpose, it is not a foundation. Some information is the meat and potatoes that other, important, learning builds upon.

I had a client dad ask a few months ago about his son's ability to identify numbers. "He doesn't seem to know what a 7 looks like." 

I kinda blew him off, saying something about his child not needing to know that and I don't teach it. 

That conversation sat uncomfortably with me for the rest of the evening and night and I got back to him the next morning.

I had a similar conversation with a mother a few weeks ago. They were at Thanksgiving and her sons' cousin, who is a few weeks older, could identify all of his ABC's. "So, how is [my son] doing on his letter recognition?"

Again, I don't teach that.

This time, however, I was prepared with the better explanation I had given the dad the day after I kinda blew him off with a non-answer.

I explained:

Most preschools teach letter identification, and usually only uppercase letters. They also teach number identification to 10 and a set of primary color names. 

Here, I teach functionality. Your child may not be able to identify a 7 as a seven, but he can do one-to-one correspondence counting, even in a scatter group and COUNT to seven. He can COUNT to 20, possibly with some errors, in any manner required. He can simply look at a group of four items and know it is a quantity of four. He can count, with some ability, imperfectly, to 100. At 3 1/2 years old. A person can count without knowing number names. We are working on counting and quantification.

Your child may not be able to label an A as an A, but he can say that both upper AND lowercase Aa's say "ah." Uppercase recognition, when 90% of reading is lowercase letters, has very little functionality. If a person never, ever, learned letter names, they could still learn to read if they knew phonics. I am working on them reading.

Your child, at 3 1/2, can also identify around 12 shapes and colors, and I never stood in front of them and held a lesson and "taught" them anything.

I didn't even get into the fact that these children can pattern [#1 indicator of future math success], sort, graph, etc., which most other preschools are not even attempting to expose their students.

These children have been exposed to, and picked up through environmental, functional, exposure, LIVING experience, these SKILLS. There is no letter of the week, color of the day, flash cards, or expectation of memorization here. 

"Can you hand me that WHITE towel, please?"

"Do you want the BLUE or the PURPLE cup?"

"How many kids are here today?"

"How many cars do you have?"

"We are having eggs for lunch, how do you think we would spell EGGS? Let's sound it out. Eh, yep, gg, yep, ssss. Yeah. In this word, eggs has two g's, so it would be E-G-G-S. Eh, g, s. Eggs."

"Which one is your cubby? How do you know? Yes, it's your color, but it also has your name on it. Let's sound it out."

"We have to put your name on your art so I know who it belongs to. How do we spell your name? Let's sound it out."

They all pick up the letter and number names by kindergarten, but knowing their phonics and counting methods means that they are learning numeracy and literacy far earlier than their traditionally "taught" counterpart preschoolers. 

  • Their learning has meaning. 
  • It has functionality. 
  • It is important to THEM. 
Graduate of mine who placed in the top 2%
They may not be able to do a dog and pony show for the relatives, but they can do important WORK. 

This is why my kiddos historically leave here for kindergarten reading and doing math at a 2nd grade level. 

I think that the ability to read or DO math, is much more important than rote memorization of letter and number names. It's worked so far. Very well.

Knowledge is only powerful if you can USE IT.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

LSL E-commerce!

I've combined my products from sites such as Etsy, Teachers Pay Teachers and Spreadshirt and added a shop to my website for direct purchase/ordering. I'll be adding items over the next several months. All items are intended to serve multiple skill sets or developmental areas, be as natural as possible, and/or be open-ended play opportunities, and/or support specific learning objectives. I hope parents, providers and teachers will continue to enjoy my products and find a few more to add to their school or play room. On the left of the SHOP page, you will find the categories. Check it out!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Child Care Checklist

 Child Care Checklist
5 page Google Doc, may need to open your Google account to print
 This checklist:

1. Gives parents a chance to determine what THEIR desires, expectations and absolute must-haves are for the child care position for which they are interviewing providers

2. Gives a good checklist for comparing providers they interview, rather than relying on memory or in-complete notes

3. Gives parents a more thorough checklist of interview topics than they probably would have come up with on their own, especially first time parents.

4. Provides providers and centers a checklist to see where their strengths lie, and where they could possibly improve their program to be more competitive, or to be more clear in presenting their program to potential clients

5. Provides a comparison tool for checking out your competition and rating it against your program.

This was a quick put-together, so feel free to comment with additions, deletions, questions, suggestions.

Parents are always asking me what makes a great child care situation. I can't answer that, because every family, every care giver, every family situation and every child is very different. I do believe that the best situation will be a marriage of beliefs and philosophies on child rearing between a child care provider and the parents/guardians of the child. 

I think that personality matches are also important, that all parties feel open to be themselves and express their opinions and concerns freely.

Beyond that, there are some key elements that most parents would like to see in their child care situation. 

At this time, it should be standard that home providers get at minimum:
  • 10 paid vacation days
  • 5 paid time off [PTO] days for sickness or appointments
  • Paid major holidays 
Child care, especially home care, is a long, stressful day. Most providers are open a minimum of 50 hours a week and put in 10-20 hours a week in addition to that on cleaning, maintenance, shopping, curriculum, etc. It is VITAL that they have time off to re-charge and get away. 

Without it being paid, many providers will not take time off, and it is to their AND YOUR CHILD's detriment if they do not get some down time. I TRY to submit my time off a minimum of 3 months out so that my clients can make other arrangements. 

I personally don't take MLK or President's day, but other providers take their birthday, their child's birthday, Good Friday, etc. Our business, we can do that! When my brother was doing care, his contract had that he got off on Halloween every year, his favorite holiday.

Here in Kansas, regulations have become so restrictive that it is nearly impossible to get back-up providers who can come in while we go to doctor or dentist appointments. PTO days are becoming a necessity. 

My contract basically states that the clients have read and agree to my Policies & Procedures.

I belong to a child care marketing group. I don't need to market mine, I'm full for 3 years with a wait list at this point and have clients trying to plan pregnancies around my future openings. But I love to mentor others, and I do have some corporate marketing experience, and friends and clients with marketing backgrounds. One of the key aspects to marketing is knowing your strengths and weaknesses and those of your competition

Hopefully, this checklist will help parents and providers better assess a child care situation.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Drafting Tube Blocks - FREE

I am lucky enough to have a client who is a mechanical engineer and another who does CAD drafting, along with another that has a brother who is an engineer. So, I have a ready supply available of these HEAVY duty cardboard tubes that drafting paper comes on. 

Any architecture or engineering firm will most likely be willing to give you these for FREE, just call and ask.

These come in various lengths and are thick and sturdy, so they can stand up to the very destructive 2 year old boys I currently have with me.

I took the tubes and cut them with a standard saw blade on my chop saw at 1 inch intervals. I think I will color code them by size and mark the inches on each one. I think they will take earth tone natural stains well, to keep with the Reggio philosophy of more natural elements.

I purposefully did 20 units at 1" for numeracy teaching and exploring. 

How many did you get on your arm?

I did 1"-10" for counting and graduating, matching, estimating, unit measuring, and graphing teaching. 

Which one does that match?

I did more 2" and 3" for skip counting, fraction and multiplication teaching.

I cut several at 45 degrees and they really seemed to like those for toppers.

They started to figure out the logic/reasoning and physics pretty quick.

I kept the length at a max of 10 inches. This makes them difficult to use in any "stick" manner like a sword or bat. Not that they can't be used to hit, but it would be awkward and lack force.

A finer saw blade or slower cut would have made them less ragged. I didn't clean up the edges. You could with a wood rasp, but I found that the rough edges helped the pieces to stick together better. It also provided an extra sensory experience and fine motor activity as they picked at the edges.

6 tubes provided enough to fill a laundry basket. I will probably add an extra 2 tubes worth, but want to see how they play with them to determine the sizes we need before I make any more.

And if they get mutilated, well, there are plenty more where these came from, for FREE. Yay!
Tags: blocks, tubes, toddlers, preschool, daycare, child care, gross motor, fine motor, center, kindergarten, homeschool, frugal, 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Silhouette Christmas Ornaments

Shrinky Dink silhouette Christmas ornaments craft

While the children will be making various handprint and crafty items this week before Christmas, I wanted to do something for the parents that would be a lasting memento. 

Silhouettes are back in fashion, and I thought that would be a great idea to start with.

For the process:

I already had a pack of Shrinky Dink film. 

I took profile pics of the kiddos.

Knowing that my film is 8 1/2 X 11 inches, I manipulated the pics in my word processing drawing feature to comfortably fit within a 1/4 page space with enough extra for the hole at the top and the frame at the bottom.

I printed out the pics, placed them under the Shrinky Dink film, and outlined with a black Sharpie marker. [Don't scrimp and use a low-end marker.] I then removed the film from atop the photo on to a piece of plain white paper.

I took an oval piece from one of the children's shape matching games and used it as a template at the bottom to make a frame for their name and the year. I free handed the inside line about 1/4 inch.

I wrote their name and the year into the frame. I liked the satin look for the front of the ornament. If you want the shiny look for the front, I would print out the name and year in mirror and copy onto the ornament. 

I colored in the profile outline and the frame with a broad tip permanent marker going in one direction. If you go back and forth then it will start pulling the ink and make a gummy mess. Make a clean, slightly overlapping line and leave it to dry.

Once the first layer is dry, do a second layer of black permanent marker in the opposite direction. It will give a linen-like look to the finished piece. 

If necessary, let dry and do a third coat. Just because it shrinks down dramatically, doesn't mean that any missed or thin ink spots won't show. Get a good coverage before shrinking.

Use a standard hole punch to punch a string/hanger hole at the top of the film.

Bake at 325 degrees. I won't give a time, just to say it takes a couple of minutes. You need to watch them carefully and once they are FULLY flat, count 30 seconds and remove to cool. I was fearful the entire time watching them as they curl and bubble up and look like a freakish mess and that there is no way possible that they could end up flat and looking decent. They do! Just let them do their thing.

Once thoroughly cooled, I sprayed the inked side with a satin enamel. You could also use Modge Podge or another sealer, but I wanted something I could spray so that it wouldn't possibly mess up the pic with brushing something on.

I had some cording that fit perfectly through the hole. 

shrinky dink silhouette Christmas ornaments

They turn out relatively small. The shrinkage rate on my Shrinky Dink paper is suppose to be 50%, but they seem really small for a 1/4 sheet. They went from 4 1/4 X 5 1/2 to 1 5/8 X 2 inches.

I really like them. I hope the parents do, too.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cheese Steaks for Children

I had a French bread loaf and decided to use it for cheese steak sandwiches. Cheese steaks for preschoolers? Heck yeah!

I made them open faced for easier/neater handling by scooping out the middles of the bread slices.

I diced red, yellow and orange peppers and sauteed them in olive oil until caramelized.

The meat was about 4 lbs. of steaks cooked in the crockpot on low overnight with two cans French onion soup and water to cover. I froze half for another day.

I put the peppers and meat together and lightly diced it all with my chopper.

After putting the meat mixture into the center hollow of the bread slices, I topped with a 5 cheese Italian blend and broiled until melted and just browning.

Cheese steaks for children daycare menu

This was a new recipe, so I wasn't sure how it would go over. Two of the little ones didn't eat much of it, but they ate more than I thought they might, being my pickier eaters. The others finished off 2-3 half slices each and gave them an excellent rating.

With the meat already cooked, this is a quick meal to put together, and with the abundance of peppers, rich in nutrition.