Toys from Home

Children love to bring in their toys from home to show their friends but they often get lost or damaged. It is hard for educators to add looking after these toys to their list of duties for the day.

Personally, I prefer these toys to be left at home (or in the car) so they are safe. However, I do like to have specific days where children can bring in something for a show and tell experience. During these days, the toys only come out at group time and then they go back in their bags or in the storage cupboard. This gives children the opportunity to share the things they love in a safe way.

Some children will not bring anything in though. Be mindful about how these children feel. You can offer them something from the centre toy collection so they still have the opportunity to talk and share if they want to.

What is your policy for toys from home? Comment below!

Appreciation

All our centres have casual or relief staff. They are educators that don’t have set shifts, might be placed in any room and could be asked to do any task. Some of them haven’t worked in the industry for very long, but some of them have been around for years.

This post is dedicated to those wonderful people!

While the permanent educators and team leaders have to maintain programming and child care, we have our routines and we know them like the back of our hand.

Casual staff are often chucked in the deep end with little notice and possibly not as much information as they would have liked…

And yet, they rock it!

Having a casual position might come with financial stresses, and it can certainly be overwhelming. Some of these staff do need extra training, but that’s ok! If permanent staff are sick or need to take leave, these educators are there for us and they take on board whatever we throw at them.

I just want to say thank you! You are amazing and you’re making a difference.

What experiences have you had with casual staff that you really appreciate? Comment below!

Take the Time

Today’s post is a simple one about considering the children you have in your room. Which children do you know a lot about? Which ones do you talk to a lot? Which ones do you hardly talk to at all?

Perhaps these are the children who don’t want to sit still, always running around the yard and possibly even causing trouble? Sound familiar?

Or perhaps they are the quiet ones, always on their best behaviour but the educators end up spending so much time trying to settle others?

It doesn’t matter who they are, how they behave, what they spend their time doing. Take time to talk to them. All of them. You might not get to each one on a deep, individual level every day, but they need to know you are there for them. They need to know that you care.

They will also likely suprise you by demonstrating what they have learned or even teaching you something new. Children can have the most wonderful conversations. You should also find great benefits from the relationship boost.

Take the time!

It’s worth it.

Do you have examples of when you have taken the time to get to know a child? What relationship benefits can you share? Comment below!

Photo Devices

There a a few different devices we can use to take photos to document our learning. We can use digital cameras and transfer the photos to a computer or laptop but I find the most useful device is a tablet. While the photo quality may not be as good, tablets offer so many options to help with time management.

  • Bigger screen for viewing photos and showing them to children
  • Options to print directly from the tablet
  • Access to centre apps to communicate with families
  • Collage apps to create quick and visually appealing documentation of learning
  • Access to the internet to look up information to further child learning

There are so many ways that tablets can be useful. They are bigger and you cannot fit them in your pocket to keep them with you, but the other benefits are great time savers.

What devices do you use to take photos? Are there other useful aspects of having a tablet that you would like to share?

Communication

One of the most important qualities to have in a team is good communication skills. It is easy to fall into the trap of making assumptions, expecting others to just understand or thinking certain things are not important to share. However, the more communication you have, the stronger your team will be.

Make sure staff always know where you are going and how long you will be gone for if you have to go off the floor. Certain areas may need extra supervision while you are gone.

Team leaders need to make sure they are open to information about anything. They need to be approachable and understanding. Similarly, team leaders should also feel comfortable approaching the members of their team. If verbal discussions are not available, use written notes in diaries or communication books.

Make sure expectations are clear. Making assumptions that everyone understands what is expected of them can make work life difficult. Have clear descriptions of roles and responsibilities. Check lists or to do lists can also be helpful to support those who are not familiar with a routine, or if you are implementing something new.

If someone is stressed, talk it through. Stress in a workplace can be contagious. Assist them to find ways to reduce this stress. It is quite possibly another communication issue and their concerns have not been heard.

Communication must go both ways!

How have you supported communication issues in your centre? Do you have any other comments?

Fear of Police

I have come to notice that some children are developing a fear of police. They are talking about their concerns of getting arrested. Even my own daughter has asked how bad you have to be to get arrested. I believe her question originated from the Mr. Men book Little Miss Sunshine where the character gets arrested just for smiling. However, I have not yet figured out where other concerns are coming from.

This is a pretty big issue though. The concerns create a fear of police. Our children need to be able to trust the police.

So what can we do about it?

You can create entire term themes based around emergency workers, or people in our community. You could start a big project! It takes time to plan and it has to fit in with the rest of the learning you have been planning for the year though.

You do not have to do something big. You can fit in discussions about police and other members in our community without making it a project. Once the issue is discovered, or even before the issue is discovered, it is best to address it quickly.

I would recommend finding some books with police characters and inviting discussion at group times. Talk to the children about their fears and then explain the reality. I would have these discussions multiple times over at least a week to help the children to remember that the police are there to keep us safe.

You may also have connections with police. Perhaps family members or friends. Or there may be programs that are run by the police for excursions or incursions. These take time to organise though, so use them as an extension of your original discussions.

Have you noticed children having a fear of police? What have you done to support them?

Letters and Reading

I want my child to learn how to read.

When will my child start learning their letters?

Are these familiar questions for you? When in an early childhood setting, a childcare or a kindergarten, it is generally not that uncommon for parents to question what their children are learning. Some have really high expectations.

Other countries might be different but, in Australia, children start to learn their letters and how to read when they go to school. Kindergarten may explore letters, and certainly recognising and writing their own name, but the first year of school is designed around the very basics of reading (as well as many other subjects). This is around the age of five. There is not need to start before then.

Children may express interest in starting early, and I am happy to encourage that. Follow their interests and explore the learning they want to participate in. However, if a child is not interested in reading yet, forcing them into it before they even go to school will only create a dislike for learning and will make their schooling more difficult.

When I am approached by parents looking for these higher expectations, I explain this information to them. I tell them I will follow their interests, but my main goal while they are in my class is to inspire a love of learning and to develop the fundamental skills required so that learning can be possible.

What age do children start learning to read in your country? What are your opinions? Comment below.

Music

What sort of music do you play at your centre? Is it always children’s music? ABC, The Wiggles, If You’re Happy and You Know It…

How does it make you feel? Do you enjoy it too? It is okay to say no to that. And if you don’t enjoy it, why are you playing it? How does it impact on your mood?

So many questions.

I think it is good to play this music sometimes. You might find it useful for certain group time activities, or children may even request it, but I would not play it all the time, especially if the repetitive nature of it bothers you. Play music that inspires you. Children are already aware of other types of music. They would hear it at home and in the car. As long as it is appropriate for the age group, play your favourite songs! If you are feeling happy, the children are likely to feel happier too.

What sort of music do you play at your centre?

Mood Lifting

We have been living in hard times for quite a while, and it is easy to let the stress get to us and impact on our work and relationships. We need to remember that it is hard for everyone though, each person has something going on in their home lives, or some other stressor. Some are better at handling it than others, some are better at hiding it than others. Should we hide it? I don’t think so. I have always found it makes me feel better to talk it through with someone able to listen, but that is another topic.

Supporting the people you work with to feel better about their day will not only make everyone happier, it will also boost motivation and possibly even productivity. Putting your own stress to one side and focusing on others can be very beneficial.

But how can we do this?

Positive feedback and expressions of appreciation.

I know, it sounds too simple to be the solution. But think back to the last time you gave detailed and heart felt, positive feedback to someone. How often do you do it? Do you give it only to specific people, or does every member of your team receive it? It can be easier to give it to some than others. Perhaps some of the members of your team are the reason you feel stressed out. But what is it about them that stresses you out? Can you help them?

Don’t just limit it to your team. You can provide feedback to other people in your workplace too. Especially your admin team. Management handle so much stress in a day it can be overwhelming, and they may feel as though their work is not appreciated. They are in charge, it is what is expected of them. But where would we be without them?

I would like to challenge each and every one of you to take a good look at the work others around you are doing and provide detailed positive feedback. Do it every day. Don’t just say you like it, say why you like it. Or if someone is helping you, it’s great to thank them, but can you make it more detailed? Eg. I am so grateful for your help. Because of you, I was able to do….

Are you going to take on this challenge? What are your opinions about providing positive feedback? Do we do it enough?

Focus on Team Strengths

When working in a centre, it can be easy to focus on what needs to be done and share the workload with the team. Everyone gets the same amount. Seems fair, right? It might seem fair, but is it the most productive method? We always talk about children being individuals. Well, funnily enough, educators are individuals too! We have our own interests, strengths and weaknesses.

Team leaders should take the time to consider the strengths and weaknesses within the team. Some find written documentation really easy, but others find it hard. Some educators lose their confidence with certain activities, while other educators will shine.

Does everyone in the team need to produce written documentation?

No.

Do not force an educator to do something that they struggle with. They will start to resent the role and the joy of teaching children will be lost.

Instead, take a different approach. Delegate specific tasks or activities to those educators, things that will help reduce the workload of those who are still doing the written work. For example, if you create a learning cycle for a specific child, delegate running the learning activity to an educator and they can still take photos and give you notes so you can write it up.

Casual staff are also great at helping in this way. I have found that they often want to be more involved and helpful. When someone comes to cover your lunch break, ask them to run an activity and then ask them about it when you get back. Just because you are responsible for the written documentation, does not mean you have to do everything.

I still think it is important for educators to know how to write the documentation, even if they do not like that side of the work and will not be responsible for it. Knowing what goes into it will help them when exploring activities with children and giving notes about what happened.

Team leaders should also notice what educators do well and follow their interests. If someone is extra creative, make them responsible for the craft table. Educators interested in sports can help children develop their gross motor skills. Of course, we all need to help with ensuring we cover all areas of development, but delegate these areas of interest when possible.

A team leader is there to lead the team, but the best way to lead is to be supportive, understanding and to really know the members of the team. Find what works for everyone. Create a working environment with minimal stress and maximum opportunities to shine.

Do you need some help as a Team Leader? Do you need support with discovering how to follow team strengths? Comment below!

Childcare Educators

There are different understandings about what a childcare worker does. Some parents will bring their children in because they need someone to care for them while they work or have other obligations. Some parents bring children in for social skills. Some bring them in so they can learn. I am sure there are many other reasons, and we try to cater to all their needs.

This led me to thinking about “who are childcare workers” and I decided to come up with a list so we can all appreciate the diversity within the role.

A childcare educator is:

  • A caregiver – ensuring the basic needs of the child are being met
  • A teacher – providing educational experiences and supporting development
  • A nurse – offering first aid to the injured and helping the sick
  • A cleaner – daily cleaning routines to maintain the centre
  • A gardener – maintaining outside areas and plants, exploring the natural world with children
  • A journalist/writer – documenting learning
  • A photographer – to share moments with families and to support documentation
  • IT support – for all those times the electronic devices aren’t working properly
  • A counsellor – listening to children and families and offering support
  • A police officer – supporting behaviour, enforcing rules and keeping everyone safe
  • A waiter – preparing tables and serving meals
  • A graphic designer – creating visuals for educational programs and displays
  • A sport coach – encouraging confidence and development of gross motor skills
  • A singer – teaching new songs
  • A dancer – because we join the children with enthusiasm
  • An artist – making examples for children to see other ways to use materials
  • A cook – running cooking experiences with the children
  • A scientist – experimenting and solving problems
  • An actor – taking on roles to join in with play

I think I could spend all day coming up with more ideas to add to this list.

What did I miss? What other roles to childcare educators take on?

Responding to Parent Complaints

Receiving complaints from parents is never easy but it is part of our job. They can be quite upsetting and they may make you feel like your work is never good enough. However, it is important to put these complaints into perspective and use them to improve your practice. I know this is easier said than done, but I will give you some tips.

First of all, you need to take time to reflect on the complaint. Think about it from the parent’s point of view. They are just trying to look out for their children. Sometimes they don’t understand how we work and they just need an explanation, but sometimes we need to make changes to our practice so we can better support our families.

If the complaint is sent via email, do not reply straight away. Talk about it with your team and have time to think about the best approach. If the complaint is made in person or over the phone, it is easy to become defensive. I would recommend thanking them for their feedback and telling them that you will discuss it with the team and get back to them with a response. This is not always possible or accepted. Some issues are more time sensitive, but if you do have the option to get back to them you will be able to prepare yourself for a response based on education and practice and not on defending your work.

Parents appreciate it when they feel heard and understood (doesn’t everyone?). If you have been given time to think about your response, come up with an answer that demonstrates your understanding of their concern. If their desired change is not possible, then you need to be able to explain why and be open to other suggestions as to how you might go about supporting them. If you do decide to make change, give them specific details. Thank them for their feedback and say what changes you have made to improve your practice and how you intend to maintain it.

At the end of the day, you need to remember that you are not a superhero. You will not always be able to satisfy every complaint. You are only human. We make mistakes. We learn from our mistakes. We try to do better. As educators, we are always learning and we are always responding to challenges. Don’t let them beat you up and remember why you got into the profession in the first place.

Do you need support with responding to a parent complaint? Do you have any other suggestions?

Risk Taking

It is really important for children to take considered risks. We don’t want them to be dangerous, but they do need to push their comfort zone and challenge their skills.

However, it is also important to remember that they are not always going to succeed, and that’s okay! Take an obstacle course, for example. A child may fall off the balancing beam. They might get a bruise or sore hands, but they will be okay. Don’t pack away an activity just because one child is hurt (unless you’ve discovered something dangerous about it).

Sit with the child and talk about what they had been doing. They were brave to try. Show pride in their achievements. It doesn’t matter if they weren’t successful this time. They might do better next time. It’s how they learn.

When children fall, they may not want to continue the activity, but they should have the option if they do want to try again. You never know, they might just surprise you!

What risks do children have access to in your centre? When have they surprised you by being brave?

Learning a Language

Schools in Australia teach children a different language, but can we start this even earlier? Kindergarten? Childcare centres?

I certainly have. I have a fondness for Japanese. I’ll be honest, I’m not very good at it, but I’m good enough to teach some to 3 and 4 year olds. I’ll go into detail about how I teach language in another part, but today I would like to talk about why we should do it.

It’s not necessarily about teaching children how to speak fluently. Language learning in the early years is a great way to open up conversations on culture and diversity. It is a clear way of showing children that people are different, but they are still people.

I have also found that children enjoy different languages. It is almost like having codewords. Many will take that information home and then pass their learning onto their families. This encourages further communication and sharing knowledge.

Languages also help to develop problem solving skills. Children have to build strategies to remember the different words.

At this young age, it doesn’t matter if you are not highly skilled in another language. Teaching a few areas will be enough to support these skills and spark a passion for learning.

What are your opinions about languages in the early years? Do you teach a language?

Follow Your Interests

We always talk about following the interests of the children, but what about our own interests? I think they are very important too. When you are able to teach something that you love, you bring out a passion for learning. That passion can be incredibly inspiring for children.

Personally, I love Disney. I’m such a big kid! I like to have close conversations with children about their favourite movie, characters or songs. I also play the music and sing along (loudly!) and I love to see the smile on their faces when they realise I know all the words. I feel like it brings out a confidence in myself that I can then share with the children.

I am also very fond of Japanese and I have been able to work with my management to incorporate the language into our program. I only know very basic Japanese, but I love to learn it and explore the language with the children. They ask how to say certain words and when I don’t know the answer, we look it up together.

We learn together.

There are other educators in my centre that have their own strengths and interests. Much different than my own, and that is awesome! Not only would it be boring if we were all the same, but it means there are so many different options for passionate learning.

Use these interests as a strength in your planning. Delegate experiences to educators you know will thrive with certain topics. It is important for us to have fun too. How can we expect the children to have fun if we don’t share the same joy?

How do you incorporate your interests into your planning and experiences?