Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Communication in Child Care

Communication between child care providers and parent clients is vitally important, and often lacking. The relationship between parents and providers needs to be a clear PARTNERSHIP. All good relationships are based in good communication.

You can't fix a problem you don't understand.

You can't be fully compassionate or patient when you don't understand the motivation.

I have two sets of clients that came to me complaining that the main reason they were leaving their previous provider was due to lack of communication. Both said that each day all the discussion given was a simple, "had a great day!" Then at home when the child wouldn't eat or sleep like usual, was more fussy or defiant than usual, the parents had no clue what could have caused it.

While parents may not appreciate a detailed listing of all their child's transgressions throughout the day, especially when they just got through with work and are not looking forward to the evening drill, it is important that everyone understands and focuses on the child and his/her well-being.

Open communication needs to be created by the provider. Parents do not want to anger a provider who has their child's well-being in their hands for most of each day. 

Many parents and providers simply do not have a personality that allows them to be communication instigators. But as providers, it is a requirement of our business that we learn and practice good communication skills.

Communication levels and methods need to be not only open, but negotiated. I just had a newborn start and I talked with the parents about what I needed and what the parents needed regarding information and communication. I let them know I could give them as little or as much as they needed to feel comfortably informed. Since they are former clients, and our partnership and trust is well established, they need much less from me than a brand new set of clients probably would need.

They decided to send a text when they feed before coming so I know when he'll need another feeding, and they change the infant before coming here as a given. At the end of the day I give them a quick verbal rundown to let them know if he was fussy any, had any tummy issues, how he slept, how many dirty diapers and if wet was good. 

They preferred a verbal rather than written or texted daily review. Their previous provider texted both of them throughout the day what was going on, and it was bothersome to them at work, but they didn't know how to tell her and didn't feel comfortable doing so.

A friend complained recently to me that her center teacher at pick-up time always said her child had "a great day!" But when talking to her child, it was anything but. After hearing that her child had a great day, and then finding a knot on her child's head due to being pushed, my friend went in to talk to the director. 

The pick-up time teacher was only with the children the last couple of hours, and didn't communicate or relay any information from the lead teacher. My friend never saw the lead teacher at drop-off or pick-up, so had absolutely no idea what was actually going on throughout the day. The director offered no apologies or solutions. My friend was thankful her child was old enough to talk, and was talking to me because she is looking for other care options.

Providers need to relay factual detailed incident information, not a general feeling or overreaching label. It should NEVER label a child, only the behavior. "He was a pretty bad boy today," does not tell a parent much and attacks the child's identity. "He hit a child with a dinosaur when I asked him to put it away before lunch," says what happened and gives an indication of why without making assumptions. 

It leaves open that it could have been retaliatory, he could have been hungry or tired, etc. It still wasn't appropriate behavior, but gives more information which leads to more understanding of the situational aspect of the behavior. It also identifies a short period of inappropriate behavior rather than overreaching to include the whole day.

Providers also need to not take parents' concerns as a personal attack, criticism, or complaint. It is a concern about an issue that needs to be addressed. If a discussion devolves into this type of conversation, then it needs to be re-focused on the issue and solutions, not blame or attack. Someone has to be the bigger person and keep a clear and level head.

It is your business. You can run it as you wish and those parameters need to be clear in your Policies and Procedures and your clients need to be thoroughly briefed on those before even an interview is conducted. Policy and procedure issues should have very little contention if presented properly prior to contract. 

Issues that will arise that need to be addressed should revolve around the child, the school and home environments, home schedule changes, expectations of the child and developmental issues.

Last evening, Monday, I spent over half an hour discussing behavior issues with one of my parents. The child had had a couple of rough days at both school and home and we were trying to determine the source. Behavior in young children always has a source. The first behavior we discussed was his obsessive ownership over specific toys. 

While this child has obsessive tendencies, it was unusual for him to be so invested in ownership and, at 3 1/2, throwing screaming tantrums when any other child came near him or played with the items after he abandoned interest. 

I had been thinking about it and had come to the conclusion it had to be something that happened over the weekend to spark this behavior. Mom had been thinking about it and thought it may have been that they had children over to visit over the weekend. 

As we talked, it came about that we agreed that:
  • The parents had violated the "new Corvette" rule: they had forced him to share a brand new toy that he had worked for and was extremely special to him.
  • The visiting children had been allowed to play in his room, invading his space and making him feel violated.
  • He was forced to share his toys and space without limit or discussion.
We discussed that next time children visited that:
  • Communal toys should be ones he held no possession over, ones kept just for that purpose of playdates and/or ones that he had abandoned and had little interest in or knowledge of owning.
  • Playdates should be in a public area like a living room rather than private like his bedroom. The child can invite the other children into his personal space, but it should be at his invitation with no encouragement or coercion by parents.
  • Discussion should be made about any special toys the child might want to have put away for the visit or ones he would truly like to share.
  • My solution for here at school, was simply to remove the toys he was obsessing about. One of which, was his "new Corvette" dinosaur that he had to now leave at home.
We also discussed that though the parents' personalities were very open and social, that their child's personality was NOT, to their extent, and that they needed to recognize and respect their child's personal limits and boundaries. 

I discuss things like this with parent clients ALL. THE. TIME. Once we each understand the issue, and come up with some workable solution(s), then the child benefits, as well as everyone in the child's community. The consistency in expectations, and the core value of the child's mental and physical health being forefront between provider and parents, makes the child's life much richer and happier.

Another one of the moms, who I don't see regularly, was in for pick-up last week and brought up a couple of concerns about her son. We just stood around bouncing ideas and theories off of one another for about half an hour, and afterward, we felt we had a good understanding of what was going on and what could be done at school and home to make things better.

Issues that I have discussed with parents recently: the possibility of a preschooler having an auditory processing disorder, a toddler not sleeping through the night and night terrors, a baby wetting out even though the diaper size was upped a size, defiant rule breaking at home and school, a child self-identifying as bad when he doesn't get that information from school or home, potty training prep, a child's recent balance issues, consistency between school and home of vocabulary introduction and sign language for the 11-month-old. 

The children are very comfortable with ALL the parents,
and all the parents are comfortable with all the children.
Communication from me comes regularly through emailed newsletters/notifications, texts, Facebook posts, Youtube video posts, blog posts and verbal daily discussions both mornings and evenings. Clients are welcome to hang out here at any time during school hours, but I will put them to work as teacher's helpers. Clients are also welcome to meet with me after hours to discuss skill development and discipline issues more thoroughly with both parents present without the child[ren]. 

In Reggio, we are all about community, and that is between the children, but also between the children and the other families' members, including extended families, and me. I am on Facebook with most of my current and former clients, many of the grandparents, and some of the aunts and uncles. We have regular dinners where everyone can get to know one another, and often the families get together on the weekends for playdates and outings. This sense of community, which is sorely lacking in young children's lives these days, builds a trust and security that helps them be happier children and better citizens. 

It all begins with good communication.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Essential Preschool Math Skills

Even though I have training in curriculum, it still took me awhile to figure out the different types of math concepts that I needed to be integrating into my teaching, how, and when. I hope this will help others who are teaching or homeschooling preschool. 

One of my former students placed in the top 2% internationally in Math Olympiad. This is why...[in addition to her just being exceptionally smart!]

The main math skills I will cover here pertain to numeracy and are:
  • Pattern recognition & sorting/classification
  • Subitizing/quantification
  • One-to-one correspondence counting
  • Rote counting
  • Counting on
  • Grid counting
  • Scatter counting
Note that on this list is NOT learning number names. This goes with my functional learning method. Knowing the name of a number 1 is not functional. It is vocabulary. Knowing the order or quantity for the number 1 allows for functional mathematical ability. The children all learn that a 1 is called a one, but incidentally, not as a focus of teaching.

This post goes to the next level from my Teaching 2's Math post which was a level up from my Learning Math From Birth. You may also want to read my post Early Math is as Important as Early Literacy

Math, especially, needs to be hands-on learning through play and manipulation in the early years. We are currently on our EGG unit, which is math intensive. This allows you to see some ideas on how to integrate the skill learning into a unit or theme.

These children, 2-3 years old, know their basic colors and can count to 10 in order to do the activities.


I put these skills together because they are complimentary skills. They both are observation and interpretation of where things belong. If a child can't sort/classify, then they can't complete a pattern activity, and sorting and classification are patterning activities. 

The ability to recognize patterns is considered the NUMBER ONE key indicator for future math success. I start this in infancy, patting out song rhythms on their back or with their feet to music playing along. It builds that ability to begin linking patterns to their world. I use repetitive patterns, audio, physical or visual, for most of my infant and early toddler learning play, specifically to enhance this ability. 

It works. My preschoolers can sort, categorize, and pattern forward and backward much earlier and better than their peers who have not had this early exposure. 

Activity: The children create their own pattern and then extend it out in either direction until they run out of eggs.

Patterning is not just a preschool skill activity. There are patterns everywhere - in the seasons, in our daily schedule, even our daily routines. It allows children to be able to tell time in a general way even as infants. It leads to understanding quantities of time such as weeks, months, years. It allows them to know that we always wash our hands before eating or brush our teeth before going to bed. Those are patterns. There are patterns in nature, music, and daily life. As they enter the preschool era, we work more hands-on and intentionally with creating and manipulating physical patterns.

Activity: The children gather eggs as fast as they can, then sort their eggs by color. For younger children, I might have colored bowls or color circles to assist. We are working on grid formations, so that is why theirs are sorted like this.

Sorting and categorization are naturally occurring. They know farm animals from zoo animals. Red cars are sorted from yellow cars. Blue blocks are suddenly preferred and everything is made up only of blue blocks. As we advance, opportunities are created for more advanced sorting and categorization on more than one trait. Red/green/purple circles that are also small/medium/large. Then throw in a few blue squares of the sizes and see how they handle that. 


This is the ability to instantly recognize quantities. It starts as soon as you begin asking a child if they want MORE. More/less, big/small and their counterparts are all quantifications that toddlers learn. Around three they are learning to recognize a quantity of at least 1-3 objects as being that amount just by looking at it. This is an important mathematical, observation and spatial skill that is often overlooked. The only way to enhance this skill is to give children a ton of opportunities to practice it in grid formation and scatter groups. "Look, you have 3 blocks lined up!" "I see you have 3 cars in your hands." "Do you want 2 or 3 pieces?" and have the groups of 2 and 3 laid out for them to see.

Activity: Bring me 2 eggs the SAME color. Bring me 2 PAIRS of eggs. 2 eggs + 2 eggs is how many all together? Bring me 3 DIFFERENT color eggs. 

Dice play in later preschool and pre-k really works this skill.

However, quantification BEGINS by getting them comfortable with assessing quantities. This is smaller/larger, more/less, smaller/bigger, shorter/taller.  

It also carries over to categorization/sorting and patterning. Being able to tell a specific quantity, first comes from being able to assess the quantity.


While rote counting to 100 wins the accolades, the whole purpose of math is to count THINGS. Even as infants, I have their little fingers touching bunnies in a book as we count them and everything else we can one-to-one correspond. We count, with fingers touching the items we are counting, multiple times a day from the first day they arrive. It is ingrained.

This ability leads to accurate counting, an ability to practice subitizing/quantification on their own, and an ability to do equations much earlier. 

Activity: Once sorted by color, children count how many of each color they have. Then the eggs are combined and again counted by color for the group. Subitizing is encouraged on individual small quantities. Quantity comparisons of same/equal, more, less, how many more, how many less, etc. can be performed.


Rote counting is the ability to count in numerical order. Seems simple, but it is more difficult and important that children understand that the order has permanence. Numbers occur in order. Always. I have a 2-year-old that just counted to 13. He then skipped up to 15, 16, 17, 19, 20. Still in order, even though he skipped a couple, showing that he has that concept understood. 

We count here multiple times a day, at least once a day to 100. With toddlers, we do 1-2-3 as the focus, and do it multiple times a day until they get it. When they have that down, then I work to 5, then 10, then 11, then 13, then 16, then 20. Then we learn to count by 10's before moving on to counting to 100. Eleven is the hardest because they hear 1-10 SO much from parents and in the shows they watch [AT HOME.] I try not to do that here, which is why we do various counts throughout the day and week.

Rote counting and one-to-one correspondence must be mastered to some degree before other math and science skills can be mastered.

It is so ingrained here, that I just caught this one counting the stripes on his socks as he laid down for nap. It's just what we do. 

Activity: Incubating eggs takes 21 days, exactly the number we are working on for rote counting. 11-19 are the most difficult numbers to master, and this gives us the opportunity to count those on a daily basis for 21 days. We count how many days the chicks need to develop, how many days have passed, and how many day until they hatch. Working rote counting and number recognition. 

This is an example of how number recognition happens without it being a main objective. The objective is counting.


This is the beginning of addition and future understanding of equations. It is an extension of rote counting and one-to-one correspondence. You have 3 items and another two are added, you can continue on from 3 to count 4, 5. This is NOT an easy skill to master. They want to go back and now count the whole group, until it clicks. This takes a lot of exposure and practice, but a child that can subitize/quantify then count on has a higher level of numeracy and mathematical understanding from which to scaffold.

Activity: When doing 10-frame counting, try to get them to begin counting after subitizing a smaller amount. Also when doing fact families of lower numbers. Here we are doing fact families of 5, and I ask them to subitize and count on from the smallest quantity. This requires direct instruction. This is an activity they can do independently, to a quantity they are familiar with manipulating. The older ones will automatically go to 10-frame.


The current math [Common Core circa 2018] is almost entirely based on 10. Ten frames are used exhaustively. So what used to be just an easier way to line up and count items, now becomes a focused effort to get preschoolers to line items into ten frame organization, which is a grid. 

Understanding rows and columns, creating and reading charts, is actually very easy for even young preschoolers to master. I begin by using the actual items and eventually move it to a white board. Once they reach school, the same concept will be used on endless worksheets [sigh.] 

Additionally, if preschoolers get the concept of grid layouts early, multiplication and division makes absolute sense to preschoolers, and often they figure it out on their own. It also helps with the concept of skip counting that they will need to master in elementary school.

Grid counting here begins when I line up items for a toddler or early preschooler to rote count easily using one-to-one correspondence. I do make certain that they count vertically as well as horizontally, such as stacked blocks. These are some former pre-k students doing the same at a higher level. As play. Their ability to read and interpret graphs was amazing.

It also helps with addition and subtraction as I can split objects into linear groups to show fact families and the permanence of the count.


Scatter counting is figuring out a methodology of counting a scattered group of objects. It's pretty difficult. Different children do it differently. Whatever works for them. Left-right, top-bottom, or physically moving items from an uncounted grouping to a counted grouping. I show them all the ways and let them figure out what works best for themselves. This takes a lot of exposure and practice. They begin as toddlers as I hold their fingers and we count flowers in a book, worms on the ground, freckles on a face, etc. 

Since mine learn it in conjunction with rote counting and one-to-one correspondence counting, they pick it up fairly easily. The main issue is getting them to slow down and pay attention enough to be accurate. Even if I just observe them doing it in play on their own, if they do it wrong, I have them do it over again until they get it correct. This is one skill that needs accuracy reinforced.

Activity: Place items in a bowl so that linear or grid formation is not possible then have them count the items. Different colors, especially in easily subitized quantities, is easier than all different colors or all one color. This is an activity they can do independently.

These are the skills that make other skills possible - time, measurement, geometry beyond simple shapes, fractions, etc. 

These are the skills that I want, at minimum, for my preschool graduates to have mastered.

However, start them young and you'll be surprised what they can achieve...

Even at 3.75 years of age, my preschoolers are able to reach beyond these preschool-level skills. We have been spending a lot of focus on measuring recently, which they love. 

For this unit, we started with 3 different sizes of eggs. We discussed how they were the size of a duck, goose and ostrich egg. We discussed how the goose-size blue egg could be small, medium or large depending on which other egg(s) it was compared to in size. We then started to measure. The main objective was to learn about circumference. 

We started with measuring the eggs.

Then ourselves.

Then special visitor sock monkey couldn't be left out.

Then we worked on heights.

Width and diameter.

Once again, measuring was the goal, but number recognition, number order, and quantity comparisons were integrated. 

They were allowed to play and do the activity unsupervised after our introductory session.

You can see the level of engagement and curiosity. Make it fun, and they don't even know how much they are learning.