Top 5 – Back to School Edition

Fresh pens, paper and backpacks at all the stores. Heavier traffic in the mornings and afternoons.  Cooler weather.  All tell-tale signs of another school year beginning.  We’ve compiled a Top 5 list of Back to School ideas, which will hopefully inspire you and get your school year off to a great start!

1. Nose wiping station.  The start of fall brings refreshing breezes, but also germs.  We love this idea for a Nose Wiping Station that we found on Montessori Mama and How We Montessori.  Pick a corner of the classroom and set up a shelf with tissues that the children will be able to reach.  Hang a mirror above the shelf so children can see themselves as they wipe their nose to make sure they clean it sufficiently.  Not only will this station keep germs from spreading, it will also encourage self-help and health skills. (Image from How We Montessori).

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2. Class collage. This SEEC 3-year-old class made a class collage at the beginning of the year to honor individuality while also creating a classroom culture. Using collages are a great way to talk about multiple, unique parts that make up a whole. The class visited and observed “Dam” by Robert Rauschenberg at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and made their own class collage, complete with photos of their faces.

 

3. Documentation.  Documenting can seem daunting when you’ve got so many other things going on at the beginning of the year, but these ideas could make it easier, while making learning more visible in the classroom. The image on the left is from the TransformationEd blog and features their Rabbit Road, which depicts their learning process during their inquiry on Rabbits. Displaying the journey on a linear road is a concrete way that children can see their work over time as they explore a topic.  The image on the right is from the Science Notebook, Teaching, and Technology blog, which depicts another documentation idea – choose a space in the classroom (that children can see) to display blank sheets representing each month of your school year.  At the conclusion of each month (or throughout) add images or work that share what the class has been doing.  Keep them up all year long, even as you switch out other displays and documentation, to help children see their work and progress over the whole school year.

 

4. Organizational hacks.  In our opinion, there are few greater feelings than starting a new year with an organized classroom.  This yahoo list has 15 organizational hacks from around the web that will help you feel fresh and ready. (Image on left from Motherhood On a Dime, image on right from Organized Cassroom)

 

5. Exploring Questions.  Fostering a sense of wonder and curiousity is something we take very seriously here at SEEC.  One of our four-year-old classes spent a considerable amount of time exploring questions last September and October to set them up for an inquisitive year.  To read more about their unit, click here.

 

For more Back to School ideas, visit our Pinterest board here.  Happy Back to School everyone!

Painting With Tea: Connections

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Did you enjoy painting with tea? Take this activity one step further by reading a story and heading out into the community with your child. It will allow them to make connections and to understand tea in a broader context. Here are few suggestions to get you started, including those used during the original lesson.

Museum Visit:

If you’re in the D.C. area these exhibits would provide great ways to create an in-depth look at the process of making and drinking tea:

Detail of Julia's Kitchen

Julia’s Kitchen @ The National Museum of American History- This is a great place to explore someone else’s kitchen and make comparisons to your own. Ask your child how they think Julia would make her tea? Take turns pointing to the different tools (including the tea pot and kettle) she would use in her kitchen to make it. You can even sing “I’m a little teapot!”

Tea Set by John Satterfield @ Smithsonian American Art Museum- This tea set looks different and very modern. Talk about how it would feel to drink tea from the cup. Mime pouring tea for a tea party and taking pretend sips. Compare this set to cups and tea sets you might have at home.

Russian Tea by Irving Wiles @ Smithsonian America Art Museum- Start by asking your child what they see. Talk about the social aspect of drinking tea. Explain how it was used to gather people together. Discuss what these ladies might be talking about and create a pretend dialogue for the subjects of the painting.

Teal Bowl with Stand @ Freer Sackler Galleries- This is a great way to talk about geography and tea culture in other parts of the world. Bring along a map to show your child where the tea cup is from. Talk about how it is the same or different from a tea cup at home. Ask them how it would feel to hold this cup.

Community Visit:

No museum nearby or just don’t have the time? Here are a few visits you can do in any neighborhood!

Home goods store- Check out the different vessels for holding tea including cups and pots. Discuss how they are the same or different, and which you would choose to hold your tea.

Coffee Shop- Talk to the barista about how they brew tea and what types of tea they carry. Ask about differences between the teas available in the shop. You could also ask which are the most popular and then share a non-caffeinated variety with your child.

Grocery Store- The tea aisle at the grocery store is a wonderful place to discuss the varieties of tea. There are so many choices! Discuss with your child the different types of tea and how they are packaged (loose leaf, bags, triangle bags etc.). Talk about the different flavors and decide on a couple to take home and taste. To take it one step further, and take some time when you get home to research how that particular variety is made.   You might even cut open the bags to see what is inside.

Books:

Grab one of these great books from your local library!

Azuki Loves Green Tea by Rebekah Mullaney

Tea with Milk by Allen Say

Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and 3 Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Coming to Tea by Sarah Garland

 

Have other ideas on how to connect tea painting to other activities and literature? Please share!

Painting With Tea

We Tried It Every Way, So You Don’t Have To:

Painting with Tea

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“Which of these will work best?” “Can I use this instead?” “How much of this would be ideal?”  These are just a few examples of the questions we ask ourselves as we prepare activities for our family programs. Project ideas are everywhere, but more often than not, they don’t show all the details. SEEC’s faculty knows that what you see isn’t always what you get. In this blog, we’ll provide a peek behind the curtain and show you an example of how a SEEC educator goes about creating a project and ensuring that it provides the best opportunity for the child to be creative and feel successful. In other words, we’ve tried it a million different ways, so you don’t have to.

The Original Activity

This week it’s all about tea! Our featured activity comes from our Toddler Trailblazers family program, Tea TimePainting with tea is an activity provided during the playful choices  portion of the program as families arrive. Children were provided with watercolor paper, shallow bowls with tea bags and tea, paint brushes, smocks, and wipes.  Both brushes and tea bags were provided in case a child felt more comfortable using a familiar tool rather than the tea.  A variety of tea types were set out including black, green and herbal teas (hibiscus, passion fruit, cherry, and blueberry). The teas were pre-brewed to allow the water time to cool before the bags were handled by the children.

We don’t give any additional instruction because we want to emphasize the importance of process-based art.  We want to encourage the children to create without a pre-determined outcome and enjoy the process of creation without the need to achieve a specific finished product. With this project, children may create something figural/representational or abstract. Whatever the child’s choice, the experience will result in joyful painting and a final product full of vibrant hues of watercolor.

Trial and Error

Here are some of the questions we asked ourselves when preparing this project:

  • Which types of tea work best?
  • How long should they be brewed?
  • What tools work well to paint with tea?
  • What should we paint on?
  • How do I contain the mess?
  • What’s the best way to dry the finish work?

I tried out some of these approaches myself and then I recruited some young friends (ages fives and two) to help me test it out! Here’s what I found.

Types of Tea (option 1)

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Tea Brewing (option 1)

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Painting Tools

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Less Mess

Drying

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After all that trial and error, here is what we decided would help most achieve the successful outcomes with this project!

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We hope this was helpful and encourages you to try out this activity! Send us pictures of your creations and let us know how it went! Be sure to check back next week for ways to take this activity one step further by making connections to literature, museums, and community visits!

 

 

Sports Round Up

Recently we brought you a Teacher Feature showcasing a lesson on rowing and crew from of our 4-year-old classes.  We’re back with a round up of their sports unit led by teachers Jessie Miller and Will Kuehnle.   The web below depicts their entire unit, and the photos that follow highlight some of their lessons.

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The Why of Sports
It was important to Will and Jessie, that their sports unit not solely consist of playing games, but also integrated an array of subjects such as science and art.  During their week on the “who and why of sports”, the Honey Bears learned more about the science of their bodies and how sports and exercise affect their health. 1

How does physical exercise get our hearts pumping?  The children took their resting heart rates in the classroom, and then participated in an obstacle course on the playground.  Right after the course they measured their heart rate again, comparing it to their resting heart rate to see the difference.

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They also talked about sports medicine, and the importance of taking care of our bodies when they are injured.  The children were so interested in sports medicine, that Will and Jessie incorporated more lessons related to medicine throughout the unit, for example, they talked about tendinitis during their week on tennis.

Golf

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To introduce the children to golf, the class visited Hendrick Avercamp’s A Scene on the Ice at the National Gallery of Art.  The painting shows people playing on the ice, including two boys playing “colf”, a mix between golf and hockey.  After observing the painting, Jessie showed the children the tools of golf including a golf club, ball, and “hole” (made using blocks from the classroom).

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Later that week the children met with a parent who plays golf.  He answered the children’s questions about golf, and showed how he likes to swing the golf clubs.  The children took turns swinging the golf club at ping pong balls (they wanted to be safe with all the people around).

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Back in the classroom the children collaborated on a golf course using blocks, markers, and paper.

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They also practiced their persistence by playing a golf-like game by blowing their golf balls (pompoms) along the course with a straw.

Tennis

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The class visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture to learn about three exceptional tennis players: Althea Gibson, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams. 4

The National Air and Space Museum has Sally Ride’s racket on view, and the class visited it to learn about Sally Ride, and think about how gravity affects the game of tennis.

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To end their week on tennis, the Honey Bears went to a local tennis court to try their hand at the sport.  After observing and talking about the parts of the court and equipment, they got to hit tennis balls with a racket, and then play a game of “beach ball tennis” using rackets made of paper plates and paint stirrers.

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Back in the classroom, they continued to play tennis with balloons and their now decorated rackets.

Rowing/Crew

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What better way to understand the idea of buoyancy than heading down to the docks and seeing boats on the water?  The class went to the marina by the Tidal Basin to do just that.

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They also went into a boating store and talked with an expert about boats.  Boat safety was also discussed and they got to try on life jackets.

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Later that week, the class ventured to the National Museum of the American Indian to see an Ojibwe Birch Bark Canoe to learn about the parts of a boat.  After that, they headed to imagiNATIONS Activity Center and practiced their balance in boats.


We hope you enjoyed getting a bigger picture of our Honey Bear class’ unit on sports!  Visit our sports Pinterest board for more ideas.

Teacher Feature: Infants Explore Tea

For this week’s Teacher Feature we will highlight how our infant class investigated tea. Educators Brandi Gordon, J. Kelly, and Rebecca Morgan Parr took their class to the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden where they saw a tea plant in the Moongate. Afterwards they went back to our center where they made and drank tea. Below you will find images from the lesson and a reflection from the educators.

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Preparation:

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Prior to this lesson, the class had been learning about food and different things that people eat and drink. Inspired by the drinks that their parents, caregivers, and teachers had been consuming, they recently began exploring hot drinks including tea and coffee.

This tea lesson felt like a natural topic to explore after our class finished learning about fruits, vegetables, and other foods that grow from plants. We followed the interests of the children in our Duckling class who were interested in their teachers’ drinks. They children wanted to drink, touch, and taste our tea and coffee. In general, letting small children drink or handle hot beverages is not acceptable. We did not want to leave their interests ignored, so we decided to teach about them instead. We wanted to explore why some beverages feel hot and felt it was an excellent opportunity to reinforce language and safety ideas.

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To learn more about tea, the class visited the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden where they were able to look at a tea plant.

For our objectives, we began by expanding upon the past units’ objectives. We had been teaching our Ducklings that many plants become the food that we eat, so visiting the tea plant was another way to do that. We also wanted more opportunities to explore our community, visit local shops, and see different parts of our school like the staff room, where we boiled the water to make tea. Another objective was to introduce our class to the idea of temperature. Lastly, we wanted to expose them to many kinds of tea as well as show them various beverages that exist in the world.

As educators, we had our own set of objectives for ourselves. We wanted to follow our class’s interest even if it was an unconventional topic. We wanted to weave the ideas of safety into a lesson. And we wanted to allow the children to embrace having sensory experiences. It was nice to remind ourselves that getting messy is ok and can be fun!

Lesson Implementation:

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While looking at the tea plant, the educator Rebecca explained that people pick leaves from this plant to make tea.

Before the visit and on the way to the Moongate, we talked to the Ducklings about how we were going to see a tea plant. At the Moongate, we took the students out of the buggies and helped them into the circular marble seating next to the tea plant. We compared the real tea plant to the pretend tea plant and looked closely at the leaves.

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Since plucking the tea leaves off the real tea plant would damage the plant, the educators brought their own pretend tea plant which was made by taping images of the tea plant to a cardboard box. To help the children experience plucking, they velcroed tea leaves to the box which the children were encouraged to pull off and put in a teapot.

The great thing about the pretend tea plant was that the children had the opportunity to pull off the leaves without hurting a live plant. After the Ducklings pulled the leaves off the box, we encouraged them to place them into tea bags which in turn they placed into our toy teapots. Then we poured pretend tea into their cups to drink. Many of the children loved pretending to drink out of the cups. As they pretended to make and drink the tea, we sang I’m a Little Tea Pot.

Some of children were more interested in playing with the water from the rain. They smacked their hands down on the marble seating to splash. We talked to the Ducklings about how we ingest plants for eating in many ways and that plants also go into tea. They had seen flowers throughout our gardening unit so the idea that some flowers can go in tea seemed to excite them.

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The class returned to the center, to watch Kelly brew tea. Kelly talked about the different plants that can be used to make tea and poured hot water over tea leaves so the children could watch the steeping process.

We took our students into the kitchen area of the staff break room, where they began the beginnings of a circle time by sitting on the floor with their teachers. Kelly showed the class the electric kettle, tea bags, and the tea strainer. We gave out some tea bags to allow the students to explore. Some of the Ducklings started to rip the tea bags. We decided to encourage their exploration of the loose-leaf tea and asked questions like “What does that feel like?”

 

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Children were encouraged to explore tea using their senses. They smelled tea, touched tea (and even pulled apart tea bags), and eventually tasted the tea.

We allowed free exploration. Some of the children enjoyed ripping the tea bags, some of them preferred chewing a strand of lavender, others placed dried rose petals into our tea strainer. We let the children stand up and sit down as they wished but made sure that they stayed within the confines of the small kitchen area so we could see everyone.

We tried to encourage our students to explore many kinds of sensory options. We also know that they are at an age when most things still go in their mouths for exploration and provide important details about the world around them. Tea is something they can learn about through all the senses–sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. They could see the tea, hear the water boil and steam, they could touch the dry and rehydrated tea leaves, smell the tea as it is brewing and finally taste it.

Reflection:

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To conclude the lesson, the class had the opportunity to drink tea and as they drank, they engaged in conversation. Some children chose to clink cups as if they were cheering before drinking.Enter a caption

We followed up by this lesson by having the students “paint” with tea bags on a big sheet of paper. We continued to make different varieties of teas and visited the United States Botanical Garden to see different herbs that are used in tea (like mint.) Later in the afternoon, after everyone had woken up from their nap, we gave all of them a cup with the tea we made so they could try it as well as practice using open-face cups.

For other teachers trying this lesson, we recommend making sure whatever tea you use is decaffeinated and that the teas taste good to a child’s palate. Try to make sure you give enough time for the students to explore the objects and try to see how you can explore all the senses. Be flexible and open to mess– this is a great opportunity to allow each child to be an investigator, a scientist, a creative, and as always, their most curious self.

 

 

Easy At-Home Learning: Architecture

Why Architecture

As a parent, I am always on the look out for fun and easy learning opportunities. While I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed this great blog on shadows and I began to think more about architecture. We encounter architecture everyday– it is all around us. Whether we live in the city, suburbs or country – architecture is an essential component of our environment. And if you haven’t read any previous posts, SEEC staff has been busy thinking about the importance of environment and its impact on learning. Young children connect to architecture and at an early age, begin to notice its features. Don’t believe me….Well, just take a walk with a group of SEEC students across the Mall and ask them where their parents works. Inevitably, they will identify the museum by the building’s architecture. “My mommy works in the round one (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden).” or “Dad works in the one with a lot of glass (National Air and Space Museum).”

 

Seize the Moment

Maybe your child doesn’t spend their days in Washington, DC, but I bet they are noticing their own neighborhood. Ask them to think about their friend’s homes, can they identify a feature: color, shape, number of stories? What about their school? The first words out of my kid’s mouths when they set foot in their school cafeteria was, “There are a ton of windows.” Its true, one wall of their cafeteria is ceiling to floor windows that look out onto a wooded area. That feature made a strong impression and four years later, they continue to marvel at the fact these windows connect them to the outdoors. The point I am trying to make is simple: if your child notices these details seize the opportunity to take what they are interested in and run with it.

That is exactly what our teachers did in the set of photos below of our three-year old class last year. I specifically chose to highlight this lesson because I thought it would be easy to recreate at home and inspire your inner teacher. Keep in mind, I am not suggesting that after working a 10-hour day (whether it be in an office or at home) that you whip up a lesson plus museum visit (for on-the-spot ideas, see below), but it is something to keep in mind for a weekend. These ideas encourage your child’s imagination, include some simple math and gets them to think about design, engineering and even aesthetics.

Since SEEC is located near so many buildings that feature columns that seemed like an obvious element to discuss with the class.

Since SEEC is located near so many buildings that feature columns – they were the perfect element to discuss with the class. Using the tablet, helps them visualize the idea before the headed out for their museum visit.

An over-sized can was another convenient choice - something easily pulled from the kitchen.

An over-sized can was another convenient choice for the teachers who simply pulled it from the kitchen. Each child got a turn feeling the weight of the can. This is an important step so that they experience of the weight of the can.

The teacher places the can on her 2-column building with disappointing results.

The teacher places the can on her 2-column building, made simply of cardboard and blocks. Clearly, the results were disappointing.

It turns out that by adding two columns, the house will hold the can.

It turns out that by adding two more columns, the house will hold the can.

The kids get a chance to see the real thing at the National Archives.

The kids get a chance to see the real thing at the National Archives.

And inside the National Gallery of Art.

And inside the National Gallery of Art.

 

On-the-spot Ideas

Don’t have time or energy to plan – don’t worry. Here are a few simple, spontaneous ideas that will get your little one to notice the architecture in their neighborhood.

1. Ask them to count the number of windows/columns (or whatever feature interests them) and draw their shapes with their finger – identify the shapes.

2. Ask them what they like or dislike about a building or a particular part of it?

3. Ask them to draw what they see or use their imagination to draw a building.

5. Play with building blocks when you get home and design your own space.

5. Play “I spy” with a particular architectural feature while riding home and describe its physical characteristics.

Hoping these ideas inspire you to get out and learn with your little one!

Tips for Challenging Behaviors

We’ve all been there. Your child or student is exhibiting a challenging behavior, you’re frustrated, and you’re not sure what to do. While there is no sure-fire way to address any and all behaviors, we’ve reflected on some of our philosophies when it comes to consequences and dealing with undesired behaviors.

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Choices

Sometimes children act out because they want to feel a sense of control. As adults, we want to offer them the opportunity to assert their autonomy, but sometimes what they want to do is unsafe, unacceptable, or just not appropriate for the time and place. In order to respect the child’s voice and need to feel independent, while also ensuring the behavior is safe and appropriate, we rely on offering choices to the child. A few notes and tips when offering children a choice:

  • Offer a choice between two things. Too many choices can be overwhelming to a child. Often times it can be helpful to hold out a hand as you offer each choice, and allow your child to verbally tell you which they want to do or point to a hand. This is a helpful visual for less verbal children.
  • Make sure that the choice is a real choice. People often will say to young children, “You have a choice: eat the broccoli or you can’t have dessert” believing that they are offering their children a choice. But statements like these are really about consequences not choices. The consequence of not eating the broccoli is no dessert. Talking about and explaining consequences to children is not a bad thing. In fact, we explain more about the power of consequences below. But masquerading a consequence as a choice can actually be harmful. A true choice honors the child’s ability to choose between two (seemingly equal) things. One way to make the above example a choice would be to say “You have a choice between carrots and broccoli. It’s your choice. You choose.”
  • Only offer realistic choices. If you offer a choice, be prepared for your child to choose either of the options. If you are not comfortable with one of the options, simply don’t offer that as a choice. It can be extremely frustrating for a child to be told that they have the opportunity to choose something only to be told that their choose is no longer an option.
  • When there isn’t a choice. Sometimes you cannot offer a child a choice due to safety reasons, for example, “You must hold my hand while we are in the parking lot.” In this case, it is perfectly fine not to offer a choice, but explaining why to the child is respectful and helpful.

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Natural Consequences

At SEEC, we try to give natural consequences as much as possible for children’s behavior. This allows children to understand the cause and effects of their actions. For example, if a child refuses to wear their gloves in the winter, we warn them that their hands will get cold instead of struggling with them to put them on. When they get outside, they more often than not are bothered by the cold on their hands, and want their gloves. At this point we offer the child their gloves, and can remind them of this occasion if they refuse to wear their gloves again.

One of the great things about natural consequences is that the adults do not have to do anything for that consequence to happen. But unfortunately, that is not always the case and sometimes adults have to play a role. When this happens, it is important that the consequence is appropriate for the behavior. For example, it can be tempting to take away play time when a child isn’t listening or playing when they should be doing something else. However, this is not a natural consequence, it tends to not be meaningful as they suffer the consequence minutes or hours after the undesired behavior, and children NEED the play time. In fact, removing play time can often increase the challenging behaviors of children.

It is also equally important that the adult is willing and able to follow through with the consequence. If you say, “You need to behave or we’re leaving the store”, be sure that you are willing and able to leave the store if your child doesn’t behave in the way you want them to. It is also important that you explain to your child exactly what behaviors are appropriate versus not appropriate. Try saying, “you can calm down, hold my hand, and we’ll keep shopping, or we can leave” gives the child a positive idea of how they need to act and what the consequence will be if they do not.

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Time Outs & Redirection

Growing up, I remember receiving time outs and being told that I was supposed to reflect on what I had done to earn the punishment. Instead of reflecting, I remember sitting and stewing about what had happened, and just said what I needed to say to get out of time out. In short, it was not productive for me, or to the learning process of why my behavior was inappropriate.

At times, we will redirect a child and have them leave a heated situation and take a moment to sit down in order to calm their bodies and emotions. We feel that this is helpful in terms of deescalating situations, and assisting children with their developing self-control, however we don’t set time constraints on these sessions, and often tell the child that when they feel like they are ready, to rejoin the group or come talk to the adult.  We often call this “taking a break” instead of a time out.

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Communication 

We recognize that we won’t always be there when a child has a conflict with a peer, nor do we want to always have to step in and solve their problems. Instead, we try to give children agency to solve their problems, and thus we do not step in right away (unless their is a potential safety issue).

We give children language to express themselves, often we call it SEEC Speak. This language encourages and empowers children to communicate their feelings through language instead of physically. This looks different depending on the age group. For example, the toddlers are encouraged to say, “Mine!” or “Space!” in a big, strong voice if another child is trying to take something away from them or invading their personal bubble.

We also think about the language that we as adults use with young children when we are asking them to change their challenging behavior to more appropriate behavior. For example, if a child keeps standing up at lunch time, instead of saying, “Sit down” repeatedly, using more developmental language such as, “Bend your knees and put your bottom in the chair” might help children better understand what you’re asking and follow through.