Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Cultivating a Healthy Relationship with Self-Improvement

September is Self-Improvement Month.  Some readers may be thinking to themselves, “Wow, I didn’t know that!  Where can I find more information?”  Some readers may be shaking their heads and saying, “I’m so tired of hearing about self-improvement!” Your personal feelings about self-improvement may lie in one of these two camps, or somewhere in between.  Regardless of what you might be thinking, I encourage you to keep reading.

The idea of self-improvement and the publication of self-improvement resources have been around since the Ancient Egyptians. Today it is a $1 billion industry, which some say is fueled by the fact that life does not come with an owner’s manual.  Many people seek out ways to learn more about themselves and others by roaming the aisles of the self-help section of local bookstores. 

This desire to learn more, should be the common denominator that resonates with ECE professionals.   It is easy to become frustrated after implementing a new strategy and not getting the prefect life results we were seeking. 
As a member of the early care and education community, being a life-long learner is vital to your success. If you can look at self-improvement through this lens, it may become more palatable. For those of you who enjoy self-improvement practices, please keep in mind that self-improvement does not mean self-perfection.

Self-improvement is the act of continuing to seek out new information, thinking critically about how it relates to our lives, incorporating the pieces that serve us, and leaving the rest behind. When we approach self-improvement in this manner, we are more likely to be balanced, confident, and ready to support the children in our care.

Think about it.  If you are unhappy with an element of your life, you likely carry that with you into other areas of your life, including the workplace.  Children feel the stress that adults carry around with them. In addition, when you are not your finest, most-fulfilled self, you are probably not in the best frame of mind to respond to the needs of others – most notably – the children in your care. 

With this in mind, here are a few ideas that you may find helpful in your self-improvement (lifelong learning) practice that can impact your work with children: 

Organize:  Find new ways to organize materials, your environment, and your time. De-clutter your counters, closets, car, and computer files.

De-stress: Identify ways that help you release the stress that you carry. Some people take walks, others lift weights or do yoga.  Some play with a pet while others listen to music. There are so many ways to relieve stress. Do some research and find the strategies that work for you.

Take a class: Professional learning is always encouraged, but personal learning is also important. Learn more about making jewelry, cooking, painting, gardening, self-defense, or other topic that piques your curiosity. 
Engage: Research shows the importance of connection between human beings.  Find organizations or causes that resonate with you and get involved. Participate in events at a place of worship, volunteer at an animal shelter, seek activism opportunities, or contribute to a community garden or event planning committee.

Diversify: Variety is the spice of life! If you normally read mystery novels, try Sci-fi or a biography. Read different magazines, listen to a new pod-cast, watch a different news channel.  Make it a point to expose yourself to a variety of information and viewpoints… not necessarily to change your mind… but to build your capacity for compassion and understanding of other perspectives. 
Commit: Yes, September is Self-Improvement Month. It’s a great time to start the process of self-improvement that should continue throughout the year.  Start a journal, photo gallery, or other form of documentation.  Keep it updated throughout the year and next September look back on how much you have learned! 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Back-to-School Reflections

The back-to-school season provides early care educators with the chance to practice their self-reflection skills. This professional practice provides an opportunity to build on strengths, make improvements, and prevent issues from occurring in the environment.

Let’s take a look at a few questions you can ask yourself as you begin a new school year:
  • What do I know about the children in my group?  What are their interests, skills, and abilities?  What steps do I need to take to find out this information? 
  • What areas of the daily routine worked well last year?  Which parts of the routine seemed to cause problems for me or the children?  Can I add a transition activity or rearrange the routine in any way to address problem areas?
  • Does the arrangement of the classroom define interest areas?  Is it easy to navigate?  Are traffic areas clear?  Are quiet areas separated from active areas? Are work spaces and their storage areas obvious?  Are builders protected?  Are there blind spots? 
  • Are the interest areas arranged to promote play and cooperation? Are the interest areas organized or cluttered?  Are there enough materials for several children to play without causing competition for materials?  Do I need to add multiple items (i.e. more than one shiny red truck)?  Are the areas easy to clean up? 
  • Which areas of the classroom did children enjoy the most last year?  What materials seemed to engage the children the most?
  • Which interest areas were not used as much as others? Are there different materials that I could add to promote engagement in these areas?
  • Are the classroom expectations (rules) phrased in simple language? Do the expectations communicate what children are expected to do?  How can I engage the children in the creation of the classroom expectations?
  • Am I prepared to collect observations about the new children entering my program?  What methods and materials will I use to collect my observations? How can my coworker(s) and I work together to gather information about children’s skills and abilities? How will I organize the data I collect?
  • Do the decorations, toys, and materials represent gender-neutral roles?  Show people with disabilities in a positive light? Promote cultural diversity? What do I need to add to accomplish this?
  • What are some new topics I would like to explore with children this year?  How can I incorporate more of the children’s interests into the curriculum this year?
  • How will I build classroom community between the children in my group?  See the CCEI August Newsletter for more information.

What are your favorite self-reflection questions to ask during the back-to-school season?  We’d love to hear from you on Facebook.  Click Here to join in on the discussion!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Stepping Out of Your Professional Development Comfort Zone

Have you ever found yourself reading through a list of professional development opportunities circling the ones that really interest you, only to realize that you are already pretty confident in your ability to implement those skills or topics? 

Folks who enjoy music and movement love attending training that teaches about using music and movement in the classroom.  Teachers who love nature and science, are naturally drawn to outdoor learning trainings. Providers who enjoy painting and drawing will be the first to sign up for courses that promote open ended art experiences for young children.  Naturally, we are drawn to professional development opportunities that align with our personal preferences and interests.  Unfortunately, staying in our professional development comfort zone doesn’t fully prepare us for the challenges we will face in the classroom.

It is important to recognize this phenomenon in action and make an intentional effort to pick training classes that don’t necessarily grab our attention. If you find yourself reading a training title that includes the words “sand and water table” but you avoid the use of a sand and water table because you don’t like the mess that comes along with it… you need to sign up for that training.  If you see a training description that discusses the integration of technology into classroom activities, but you are not technologically savvy… you need to sign up for that course.

There may be other topics that we do not choose because we feel that we have those skills solidly under our belts.  We need to keep in mind that there are new developments and improved strategies that we can learn about by revisiting topics every so often.

To ensure that you are including a wide variety of topics, employ the use of a professional development record or create a tracking tool that will help you plan and document all of the training you complete.  Reflect on your current practices, preferences, and aversion. Then create a professional development plan that checks off as many of the topics as possible.

Include general topics such as:

❏Health and safety
❏Working with children with special needs
❏Cultural competency
❏Engaging and communicating with families
❏Child development
➯Social and emotional
➯Language and Communication
                  ➯Construction and block play
                  ➯Science in the classroom
                  ➯Social studies projects
                  ➯Open ended art
                  ➯Music and movement
                  ➯Dramatic play and storytelling
                  ➯Outdoor learning
❏Teaching practices
➯Small group activities
➯Conflict resolution

CCEI's July Newsletter Edition also covers topics on Professional Development for Early Care and Education Professionals with regards to Creating a Reflective Practice you don't want to miss!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Process-Oriented Summer Activities for Early Childhood

The summer season provides children across the country with an opportunity to get outside and enjoy some sunshine. This is a great time of year to look for opportunities to incorporate more open-ended and process-oriented activities into the curriculum. 

Activities are considered process-oriented if they provide children with the opportunity to:
  • Determine the end result
  • Focus on the exploration of the materials
  • Express creativity
When children engage in process-oriented activities, the end result (product) is less important than the steps the children worked through to accomplish the task. There are no samples, or teacher created models. It requires simply providing children with a variety of materials and tools and encouraging them to explore.

Summer is an excellent time to incorporate these activities because one of the biggest barriers to process-oriented activities is the fact that they can be messy.  Introducing this type of activity outdoors gives both children and teachers a chance to experience the benefits of process-oriented activities before bringing them indoors in the fall.

Here are some examples of process-oriented activities that you can try:
  • Provide children with pails of water and paint brushes of different sizes. Encourage them to “paint” the side of the building or a wooden fence.
  • Children can create collections of natural items.  Create a collage filled with items from nature, paint with them, or paint on them.
  • Hang a sheet at the children’s level.  Provide spray bottles filled with watered down paint. See what happens next.
  • Make mud pies. If you are not ready for mud pies, introduce different types of clay (not Play-Doh) to the children.
  • Encourage children to create their own games, mazes, or relay races.
  • Make sand art.
  • Encourage children to create structures or sculptures out of sticks.
  • Introduce weaving by providing a variety of fabrics, yarns, and ribbons. Encourage children to decorate the playground fence.
  • Add washable paint to ice cube trays and then let the children paint with the melting cubes.
  • Finger painting, foot painting, elbow painting, etc.  Not the foot prints that teachers later decorate – allow children to create an original work of art with their feet.
  • Provide wooden blocks and wood glue. With close supervision, children can even make wooden structures using screws and screwdrivers.
This is just a quick list to get you started; there are hundreds of different ideas and variations available if you follow these rules:
  • Allow children to take the lead
  • Avoid pre-determined end results or samples to follow
  • Provide a variety of materials and see what children come up with
  • Provide guidance and suggestions on different ways to use materials
  • Make observations and provide positive feedback about children’s efforts
  • Each child’s work should be unique! 

Check out the CCEI Pinterest page for 25 Process-Oriented Learning Activity ideas!  

CCEI's June Newsletter Edition also covers topics on Enhancing your Outdoor Learning Environment you don't want to miss!