While the state of Illinois already has a licensing system in place, the city of Chicago is starting a system that will allow parents to see where 450 city-funded programs rank based on quality ratings. The areas that will be rated include things like the program’s staff qualifications, family involvement and learning environment. In addition, those early childhood programs with the highest ratings will receive the most funds. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that this system will be “stricter” than the state system, which will almost certainly be a good thing in my opinion, however I’m a bit worried on how much he’s focusing on just education. From the Chicago Sun-Times report, he says: ““Just getting certified and doing a background check was good enough before. No. Where are you on the basics of teaching a child on learning, learning the alphabet, what the letters are, what the numbers are?” Luckily in the same story, we hear from Diana Rauner (president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund) who says that the focus shouldn’t just be on the basics, but also on “persistence, self-control, motivation.”
My worry when ratings systems pop up like this in early childhood education is always that it will lean toward hard academics at inappropriate ages. I hope that this system will not do that and will allow children in the lower ranges (birth to 4) a chance to learn through play and adventure and at their own unique paces based on where they are developmentally. Hopefully this system will be modeled after others used for program evaluation like the NAEYC accreditation standards and those of the American Montessori Society. Both do a nice job of recognizing the needs of the whole child, family and program staff.
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I know for large centers it’s nearly impossible to keep keep an antpile around, especially if you contract services for pest removal. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Ants in their natural habitat provide children (especially those 4 and up) with a wonderful science experience. Much more than a plastic, indoor ant farm can ever provide.
I know we all want to protect children from bites and of course we can get swept away with covering our assets and avoiding litigation or even licensing problems when it comes to insect extermination, but if you can, find the time to learn the difference between the ant baddies (like fire ants) and the ant goodies (like those little black ants that will crawl all over you and don’t have much biting power) that live in your neck of the woods. Even sugar ants aren’t a pest when they’re at the edge of the playground or yard and they don’t come inside to eat all your sweets.
Let the children take out a teaspoon of sugar, a piece of bread or a cookie leftover from snack and allow them to watch what the ants do with it. Talk to them about the life of the anthill and the different roles of the ants. If you ever happen to see an ant eating a dead grasshopper, use the opportunity to talk about the circle of life and the food chain. Ants are a rich source of outdoor scientific observation for young and old and there are lots of ways to extend learning about ants in the classroom.
Handprint plaques are great for Mother’s Day, but they can be great at any time. For instance, one center where I worked moved the kids up from one class to the next each June. I would do all the children’s handprints at that time and then we’d do another right before graduation to see how much they’d grown over the year.
I love this method, too, because it doesn’t require plaster of Paris, which can be quite a challenge if you’re working with toddlers. Enter panic mode!
For each handprint, you’ll need:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup salt
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 pie tin
- Decorative materials like paint, markers, crayons, etc.
Making the dough:
- Mix the salt and water in a bowl and allow the salt to completely dissolve.
- Add the oil and flour and mix well.
- Knead the dough until very smooth.
Making the handprint:
- Press the dough into the pie tin until it reaches the edges.
- Have the child press their hand into the dough (though not too deep as to reach the bottom of the pan)
- Write the child’s name in the remaining space around the handprint with a pencil or chop stick
- Make a hole in the top with a pencil so that a ribbon can be strung through (this is how it will hang on the wall)
- Bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour, depending on the thickness (watch carefully to avoid over browning)
- Decorate with paints, etc. and string ribbon through hole and it’s ready to go.
Like the similar tale, Where the Wild Things Are, this is a story with imagination and curiosity throughout and a warm meal prepared with love at the end. Predictable elements (“Still, there was the little bowl of milk, just waiting.”) are inserted between each misadventure of the little cat and punctuated by dark pencil drawings with thick, heavy marks. The cat’s facial gestures add punch to each page. The font chosen, Gill Sans Extra Bold in 22 glorious points, adds a second punch and echoes the lines of the illustrations. For children 2 to 6 years of age, this book will make either a wonderful introduction to or a pleasant diversion within the normally colorful sea of Caldecott Medal winners.
It’s a story so good it had to be named twice. Or is it? Here is the story of a man who knows how to depend on his brains rather than brawn to win the favor of a god. Gail E. Haley “studied African folklore and culture … to capture the flavor of the languages, the people, their customs and life styles.” She did manage to relay this, but perhaps too much so. The unfamiliar African words could have used a pronunciation guide in the text or in a glossary. Even some of the English words (flamboyant, calabash) may be beyond the reach of the younger child for whom this book is intended (ages 4-8). This coupled with the almost babyish language elsewhere in the book (“Gum baby, I’ll slap your crying place.”) create an awkward juxtaposition. The intriguing shapes and vivid colors in the wood cut illustrations (made by the author herself) redeem the book, however, and justify the Caldecott Medal it was awarded in 1971.