Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

What’s the Deal With Preschool Anyway?

play-and-learn-preschoolThe word pretty much speaks for itself. The school before the “big school.” As a kid, I loved going to preschool. We got to play and make art projects. But there is more to preschool than just having fond memories of fun times. Those play experiences build the foundation for future learning!

As an adult I when I was reintroduced to preschool, I was hooked from the get-go. Play is a huge focus in preschool. Play is actually how kids learn. For instance, how many of you, as a child, played “house?” Growing up that was all I ever wanted to play. I was always the mom, I loved to be in charge! Playing house and having dramatic play areas in preschool classrooms are a way to get kids ready for kindergarten. Think about this. Kids “pretending” to act like they are in a “real life situation.” They model what they see from their own lives and what they see their parents/caregivers do all while using their elaborate imagination.

One of my many responsibilities at 4C for Children is to facilitate Play & Learn groups. We play, learn about cleaning up, read a story together that falls in line with the lesson of that day, we have our snack and parents leave with their kids once the session is complete. In addition to the children playing and learning the parents are asked to fill out an evaluation at the end of the session. We use these evaluations for data and feedback on our sessions. 4C also offers parents the opportunity to fill out ASQ’s (Ages and Stages questionnaire) on their child. In a recent Play & Learn I had a child that just turned 2. His mother filled out the ASQ saying that her son could not string beads. In that very session I sat with him and watched him string beads onto a pipe cleaner. When I told this mother, her face just lit up. It was so exciting for her to learn that her son has been growing and learning different skills.

Kids are like sponges; they literally soak up all the knowledge. It is amazing to see how their minds just brighten when they learn something new. Writing their name, understanding the importance of what it means to be a friend, and more! For parents that are on the fence about preschool I would encourage you to look at the advantages of quality early childhood education. Unfortunately, preschool is not an option for all families. Search out the resources in your community; learn about some different early childhood experiences in your neighborhood. Talk to other parents, teachers and community members who are advocates for early childhood education and learn what you can do to set your child up for success in school.

Here are some local resources:


Choosing Child Care Through Groupon?

There’s no question about it. We live in an age where people access information and services via technology. Parents are no different. So I commend early child care programs that utilize technology to reach parents where they are. Most promote their services online and use the web to communicate via social media. Since I value thinking outside the box, an ad I saw recently jumped off the screen at me. A child care center was advertising a deal on preschool though Groupon… this I had to see!

The program that chose this modern method of advertising did many things well:

  • Highlighted some of the benefits of quality child care, including activities that enhance early development
  • Offered parents options to meet their financial and scheduling needs
  • Painted a picture of what a child’s day might look like (activities, meals, etc.)
  • Provided an overview of their philosophy and educational programs along with locations
  • Included an “Ask a Question” link with the advertisement

The last item listed was the one I felt best about as a parent. Curious to learn what questions parents had, I clicked on the link and found they didn’t ask the same things I would have. I wondered, at first, why hadn’t anyone asked about touring the program before taking advantage of the deal, or inquired about the quality of the care and education their child would receive while there? Is it that they didn’t care, or is it that they didn’t know to ask? Having been there myself, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.

When I needed child care for the first time, I was in a major state of transition. I was newly single, returning to the workforce after staying home for three years and broke. Though a teacher for a decade, I knew virtually nothing about child care and was terrified. So much so that I switched careers and became a center director. That way I knew for sure what was going on with my children! My foray into the early childhood field was supposed to be temporary, but six years later, my job is to share my experience in order to help other parents move out of that scary unknown child care place into a place of being educated, equipped and empowered.

If only I’d known back then what I know now! In sharing what I now know, I use this CARE acronym to summarize how parents can get started:

Contact 4C. You’ll learn what to look for in a quality setting, what questions to ask and whether you may be eligible for financial assistance.  4C does not make recommendations, but we do offer free referrals. There are three ways we can help you find child care.

Ask questions. What type of care works best for your family’s needs and schedule? Ask about vacancies, ages served, cost, location, hours and days of operation. And don’t forget to ask the six questions for providers:

  1. What training have caregivers received on how to care for children?
  2. How will my child learn and grow?
  3. What shows it’s a healthy and safe place?
  4. How is family involvement encouraged?
  5. Is this program quality-rated, accredited or working toward it?
  6. How well is the program managed?

Research. Visit and interview two or three places. Spend about one hour at each program while children are there. Observe the program in action.

Evaluate. Ask for and check references. Evaluate each program using 4C checklists. Keep in mind what is best for your child and family’s needs!

The child care advertisement that caught my eye is really no different than a friend referring you to a center. In either case, you should educate yourself on what to look for in a quality setting and then equip yourself with the information to make the best decision. Making these choices isn’t always easy, but it’s always important, so a discount or freebie shouldn’t cause you to lower your standards when weighing your options.

If you follow the suggested tips above, you’ll feel empowered to select the best possible care and education for your child, regardless of its cost.

Now that’s a good deal.

– Tammi

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Marshmallows and Mountain Dew

Marshmallows and Mountain Dew for breakfast!? This was my reaction when I recently heard a story about a mother who brought her child to preschool with a bag of marshmallows and a can of Mountain Dew for breakfast.

With obesity now affecting 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States, triple the rate from just one generation ago, I cannot believe that there are parents who consciously make such poor nutrition choices for their children. For years I have been a parent supporter and have encouraged others not to judge parents on how they raise their children. My experience has been that all parents want what is best for their children, even though many parent differently than I would. However, I must admit that I cannot help but to judge this parent, as I truly cannot come up with one possible scenario or circumstance that would support the decision to provide this kind of breakfast to a child. Other than to wonder, do we really have parents who do not understand the impacts poor nutrition and obesity have on our children?

My background is not in the medical field, but is in the field of mental health. I have heard, read and experienced enough to know that obesity can lead to health problems for adults, such as diabetes, heart attack, stroke, respiratory illness and joint problems. As parents are we aware that obesity in children can lead to the same health problems? In addition to health problems, many obese children and teens are at greater risk to experience social and psychological problems. Many children struggle to “fit in” with their peers; this struggle affects their confidence, self worth and self image.  In my experience, over-weight children are often ridiculed by their peers, are the target of bullying or are socially isolated as they withdraw from social opportunities due to high levels of anxiety or depression. Certainly there are no parents who would want their child to experience these types of health or social issues. So why then is childhood obesity on the rise?

There are researchers who have investigated this very question and have suggested the accessibility and ease of fast food, children being less active and genetics. And for each of these contributing factors there is information available on how to ensure better nutrition and health for our children. For me, the solution is obvious. Ensuring the wellness of our children has to be a priority. Our children are not automatically resilient. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that “they are just kids” and that their young bodies and minds can bounce back. We need to teach our children about nutrition, we need to set expectations about exercise and we need to make intentional choices that support the wellness of our children and ourselves.  Does this mean you never give fast food or candy to your child? Not necessarily. But it does mean you intentionally make time to be active with your child, you make sure your child eats well, is hydrated before a sporting activity and you plan and prepare good meals.

I do realize that there are always exceptions and some children because of illness or genetics may struggle with obesity. In writing this, I mean to encourage parents to be aware and intentional about nutritional choices and expectations. Because in my opinion, there really is no excuse for marshmallows and Mountain Dew for breakfast.

– Carolyn

Photograph courtesy of adwriter.

Robots Work for Free

One of the latest GEICO car insurance commercials begins with a sharply dressed mother complaining about the cost of child care, and her choice to use robots to care for her children because they “work for free!” While I admit I laughed when the little girl was squirted in the face as the robot tried to give her a juice box, the parent educator and professional in me says “Whoa!”

Choosing a quality provider isn’t about saving money, but cost is a factor for every family. Cost of care, especially in the current economy, is a huge factor parents face when finding a great match for their child. Infant care in our area typically runs around $190 a week, and that doesn’t take into account centers who go above and beyond our minimum state licensing requirements. Their costs can be higher, but the true “cost” of finding care is in the quality of care provided.

When parents looking for care visit a center or family home provider, I encourage you to do what we learned in grade school: stop, look and listen. Stop and be a child for a moment. Get down on your child’s level. Are there things you can get into that you should not be able to reach? Is the floor clean? Is this an environment you want to be in for eight hours? Do the caregivers smile and look friendly?

Really take a look at the space. Is it bright, colorful and inviting? Are you seeing an environment where your child is going to learn? What activities have the teachers prepared for them? Do they have choices to make throughout the day?

Listen to what the children are saying. Are they enjoying themselves? Are they using indoor voices or are they crying and screaming? How are the teachers conversing with the children? Are they encouraging or berating? Are they nurturing and building relationships with the children?

I am a frugal shopper and love to use coupons and get the freebies as much as anyone else. But when it comes to your most prized possession, your children, don’t settle. Make sure you aren’t going for the “robot care” because it’s free, or letting the cost of care be the only, or even the most important, factor in your decision. When 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before age 5, reflect on what your choice is really going to cost you and your child in the long run.

– Debbie

Photo courtesy of Sarah Gilbert.

Hanging on our Every Word

I sometimes wonder if doctors feel more pressure to have children who never miss school due to illness. Or if coaches feel pressure for their children to be the best athletes on the team. And surely teachers’ kids should have the highest grades in school. But them I’m reminded about PKs (preachers’ kids) and know that they’re often not the best behaved in church. Or how in a playful twist on the latter, I referred to my children as DKs (director’s kids) when I was the administrator of a child care center. Everyone there knew that directors’ kids are NOT necessarily perfect child care program advertisements!

As a parent who works in the early childhood field, I am fortunate to be exposed to a wealth of information on child development and best practices for interacting with children. In fact, one of the things I most enjoy about my work is the many opportunities I have to share this knowledge with parents and other professionals. Most often I do this through writing and presenting workshops. I’m a firm believer in the “When people know better they do better” philosophy and love putting people, especially parents, “in the know.”

Recently, while preparing to present a workshop that addresses speaking with children in ways that are respectful, meaningful and developmentally appropriate, I found myself evaluating how well I practice what I preach. I considered an example I give workshop participants: The participant, their husband and another couple are watching a game on TV. During an exciting play, the other husband lurches forward and spills his drink on the carpet. He’s embarrassed and says, “Oh, no! Look what I did to your rug!” As everyone scurries to clean up the mess, the participant tells their friend, “Don’t worry. This carpet has seen a lot worse.”

I’m certain that is how I would react if one of my friends were to spill their drink on the carpet. And I’m pretty sure that’s how I would respond if it were one of my children. Whew! I passed that test.

But I failed one a few weeks ago.

Heading out the door to the pool, I noticed my seven-year-old smearing her excess sunscreen into my cream colored Shabby Chic sofa! Totally exasperated, I asked her, “Have you lost your mind?” Mortified at my response, I could have bitten my tongue out the minute the words were out of my mouth.

The look of shock that passed across my little girl’s face served a dual purpose. It reminded me how powerful my words are. I may as well have struck her. The second was an affirmation that I usually do speak with her in a way that is appropriate. Otherwise, she wouldn’t know the difference.

In that moment, it was blatantly clear that she hangs on my every word. And she needed to hear one – Sorry.

That takes me back to my earlier ponderings. Since I work in a child related field, do I feel more pressure to put it all into practice and parent perfectly? Absolutely. But I’ve learned to cut myself a little slack. We all make mistakes. But it’s to our credit, and our children’s, to learn from them and make a different one each time.

– Tammi

Photo courtesy of Leonid Mamchenkov.

Saying “No” to No!

Standing in line at the movie theatre recently, I listened to a mother tell her son “no” four times as we stood in a very short line to purchase our movie popcorn.  It went something like this …”No, you can’t buy candy!”…. “No pinching mommy!”…. “No, you can’t go in the game room without a parent!”….”No, we are not buying a soft drink, we are drinking water!” The mother turned and commented to me, “I have turned into the mother I swore I would never be–“The No Queen!” With a little research, I have found many articles on this very subject and are quite helpful.  Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, states “Over-using the word ‘No’ tells a child, ‘Don’t explore, don’t touch, don’t experiment and don’t take risks!'” That’s not to say you should stop correcting your children or setting limits, however, your task is to think of ways to mean “no” without actually saying it.  Let’s examine a few new strategies:

  • Try Saying “Yes” Instead.  Re-phrase what you are trying to say.  For example, “Yes, you can go outside after you put away your Legos.”  Doesn’t that sound better than “No, you can’t go outside until you put away your legos”?  Turning a negative into a positive sounds much better and will have a much bigger impact on your child.
  • Say What You Really Mean.  The word “no” is too vague for children.  It does not tell a child what you do want them to do.  The adult needs to provide an action.  If a 3-year-old runs into a street after a ball, it’s better to shout “Stop!” This lets a child know what you want he or she to do. This method works–and not just with dangerous situations. For example, “Please stop throwing food on the floor!” works better than “No throwing food on the floor!”
  • Tell Kids What They Can Do. Children need information. Tell a child what they can do before telling them what they cannot. For example, your child is jumping on your new couch. You are tempted to shout, “No jumping on the new couch!” But, the problem isn’t jumping; it’s where they are jumping.  So instead, give another option you’re okay with such as “You can jump on the floor or jump off your climber in the yard.”  This approach works wonders. It will enable you to defuse tantrums and arguments on a daily basis.

With less whining, fighting, and bad behavior (and fewer consequences), any situation can be become better for the child and the adult.  Without being told “no” every other minute, a child’s confidence is re-built and a parent is more at ease with decision making.


No Halloween! What’s the big deal?

Parents are sometimes surprised to learn that their child care program doesn’t celebrate Halloween. Why won’t they allow costumes and let the kids have some fun, they wonder. Are these child care providers spoil-sports, or are there good reasons for their policy?

While not the biggest issue in early childhood these days, consider this: Halloween can be very frightening to children under 5. While costumes and make-believe are fun for older children and adults, this can be downright scary for younger children who can’t yet separate fantasy from reality.

Though Halloween is widely accepted as a secular activity by most, it does conflict with the religious beliefs of some families. So programs are being respectful of the diversity of the families they serve when they limit celebration of holidays to those that are strictly secular.

If your program is one that chooses to celebrate Halloween, consider discussing with the director or caregiver how he or she will take steps to avoid frightening experiences. One simple precaution is to not allow masks and to keep costumes limited to simple dress-up items.  Better yet, consider a no-Halloween policy!        posted by Elaine Ward