Early Childhood Education Resources

Information for teachers, parents and caregivers of children from birth to age 8.


Helping Parents Deal with Separation Anxiety

I sometimes have children who experience separation anxiety when their parents are dropping them off for the day. It’s a natural part of development, sure, but there are also things that you can do to alleviate a lot of those tears and fears.

I’m especially fond of tip #3 in this video: Commit to your Exit. Let parents know that it’s not a bad idea at all to hang out for a few minutes while their child gets comfortable. I always welcomed that and it’s so much easier on a child than drop-and-run. What I didn’t enjoy, however, was when a child would get involved in an activity and was perfectly happy and then Mom or Dad would made a big show of leaving. A content, acclimated child would suddenly become stricken with sorrow after hearing, “OK honey, I’m leaving. Mommy’s going. Bye. Sweetie? Sweetie? Look over here at me. Mommy has to go. I’m really leaving this time. Here I go. I’m going.” Please know that if that’s how parents are behaving at drop-off time, it’s a trigger for their child’s anxiety rather than a help and you should let the parent know about it and give them ideas about how to handle the situation better. (Send them a link to this video!)

At the same time, I wouldn’t ever advise parents to sneak out the door just because they see their child is happy at play. Something as simple as a kiss on the forehead and, “Looks like you’re having fun. I’ll see you later,” is all that’s needed before they walk out the door. I’ve seen children have some pretty hard-to-calm breakdowns after realizing that a parent left without them knowing. It’s a delicate balance between too much goodbye and not enough, but it’s one worth finding.


Packing for the Beach

The last days of summer are here! Parents and caregivers everywhere are trying to sneak in those last sunny outings and vacations. And what better place than the beach? When my son became a toddler, one of the things I found myself pretty happy about was an increasingly lighter diaper bag. I just didn’t need as much stuff as before. It was all too easy to just toss a few diapers, a sippy cup, snacks and a few first aid items like bandages into a bag for a short trip.

Then came that first trip to the beach. I suddenly found myself wanting to pack not just the diaper bag, but a full suitcase. Or two! I packed sunscreen, the giant stroller, bug spray, sand toys galore, umbrellas, beach balls, chairs, enough food to feed us for days and towels as big as blankets and more. I was so sure we’d need it all. After I was finished packing, however, I wasn’t even sure how I was going to make it down to the beach with all that stuff in tow plus my kid!

As it turned out, he wasn’t so sure about it, either, and wasn’t willing to make multiple trips to the car for unpacking once he caught sight of all that sand and water. I ended up leaving most of the stuff in the car and didn’t even need it anyway. The next trip rolled around and my task was shortened considerably. I managed to whittle my list down to a few essentials which included:

  • sunscreen
  • a blanket for the ground
  • a couple of towels for drying off
  • a small cooler for sippy cups and snacks
  • diapers and wipes
  • dry clothes for the ride home
  • a small first aid kit
  • a bucket full of toys small enough to be carried by my toddler

With just those few items, we always had fun at the beach and I was able to get everything in one load. That’s not just smart, it’s safer since you don’t want your child out of your sight when you’re near the water. I tried to stick to beaches where I knew I could grab some shade so I wouldn’t have to bring the umbrella, but when in doubt, that came along, too.

What are the items that you can’t live without when you take your kids to the beach? Are you a light packer or do you take everything plus the kitchen sink? Have you ever made the trip with all the children in your care and if so, how did that change what you took along? Share your list.


Parent Handout: Oatmeal Bath

Winter is here in full force and you’ve probably noticed some of the children in your care are experiencing this in the form of dry, red or itchy skin. I always like to put together newsletters and handouts for my parents where I include not just information about what’s up in the classroom, but also helpful tips on saving money and caring for their children at home.

This letter can be incorporated into your own newsletter or sent out individually as you notice specific children who might need some skin soothing. For instance, every time you send a child home with chicken pox, just slip one of these notes into their backpack, folder or cubby. I also like to keep a little packet of bulk “Get Well Soon” cards around for these illnesses where I know the student is going to be gone for a while and missing buddies. Depending on the age of the children in your care, children can sign their names, draw a picture in the card or you can take dictation of a message.

Dear Parent:

I hope that this information about a colloidal oatmeal bath can help you with your child’s recent skin irritation. This bath can be used to soothe general itchiness and that caused by dry skin, chicken pox, poison ivy, diaper rash, bug bites, eczema and sunburn. You can also buy a commercially-prepared product like the little Aveeno packets, but this recipe will save you money and you probably already have oatmeal at home.

First, take 2 cups of oatmeal (any type – including instant) and blend in a food processor, blender or coffee grinder until you have a fine powder. To test if you’ve ground the oats enough, stir a tablespoon into some warm water. It should dissolve easily and the water should look milky.

Store this powder in an air-tight container. For each bath, use about 1/3 to 1/2 cup oats sprinkled into the bath and then stirred with your hand. Some parents use a knee-high panty-hose filled with the powder and stretched over the water nozzle while the water is running to strain out any larger bits and avoid clumping.

I hope that your child’s skin heals quickly. If you need any other information, I hope you’ll let me know. I’d be happy to help you with any other resources you might need.



Chicago is Starting its Own Early Childhood Rating System

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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Don’t Get Rid of Your Ants

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.


How to Make a Handprint Plaque

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
  • pencil
  • Ribbon
  • Decorative materials like paint, markers, crayons, etc.

Making the dough:

  1. Mix the salt and water in a bowl and allow the salt to completely dissolve.
  2. Add the oil and flour and mix well.
  3. Knead the dough until very smooth.

Making the handprint:

  1. Press the dough into the pie tin until it reaches the edges.
  2. Have the child press their hand into the dough (though not too deep as to reach the bottom of the pan)
  3. Write the child’s name in the remaining space around the handprint with a pencil or chop stick
  4. 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)
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour, depending on the thickness (watch carefully to avoid over browning)
  6. Decorate with paints, etc. and string ribbon through hole and it’s ready to go.