Education, Teacher Fitness

School Days!

A few months ago, I started working in a new school – about ten minutes away from where we live – teaching a new age group! It’s definitely been an adjustment on several levels, but I am enjoying my new job and having a lot of fun there.

First, I don’t think I can overstate how hard it is to be a working mom! Kudos to all of the single moms out there, because I don’t think I could run a household, take care of a baby, and work a full time job without a supportive partner. And, on top of the nonstop list of things to get done in both the home and professional arenas, there is quite a bit of sadness that surrounds dropping your child off to be with someone else all day, and there is a constant tinge of guilt for missing out on your child’s day to day development and interactions. I am so thankful that our son loves his teachers and his classmates – I definitely would not have been able to keep this job if I felt that my son was unhappy there – since he is there for eleven hours a day! I’m also grateful that I am able to take him to work with me every day. His class is in a different building, but I still get the chance to go and visit him, which is important. Finally, I’m grateful for the one day off that I have in the middle of the week. It’s been such a blessing to find a job that allows me to have schedule like this – it’s great to be a fake stay at home mom once a week!

Another huge adjustment that I am getting used to is the ratio of class sizes in my new state. In my old state, ratios for preschool children were much lower. The class sizes here are huge! Sometimes I feel that the ratios here have affected my teaching ability. With so many children running around, it is hard to get the one on one time with each of my students. I am often unsure of whether or not I am doing an effective job, because I don’t always get the chance to have quality time with each of them – though I try! One thing that has really helped with this is splitting our class into small groups for learning activities, which really gives me a better chance to focus on each individual child.

I wanted to share some of the activities we’ve been doing over the past month! My co-teacher and I switch off in terms of who is planning all of the lessons and activities. For two weeks, she will run the show by planning all of the lessons and preparing all of the materials, and I will support her by keeping the classroom clean and organized and keeping the kids busy when she is setting up activities. After her two weeks ends, it’s my turn to plan and execute all of the lessons for two weeks – and she helps me out by keeping up with all of the essential “background” tasks that help keep a classroom running. It’s a good system and I think it works really well for us.

I haven’t been there very long, but so far I have been in charge of the “Fall on the Farm” theme and the “Travel and Transportation” theme.

I painted a barn and tried to turn our dramatic play area into a farm. By the end of the two weeks, we’d filled it with crafts of corn, pumpkins, and various animals. We planted pinto beans in cotton balls and watched them sprout, we took our toy farm animals outside and traced their shadows, we painted and made prints with vegetables, weighed pumpkin seeds and corn kernels, and much more. It was fun to see the kids get excited about the fall season.

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In the middle of all this, our school held its pumpkin patch event and the kids got to go out and pick pumpkins. We spent some time dissecting a pumpkin and learning more about what was inside of a pumpkin and what types of things could be done with pumpkin seeds.

For our Travel and Transportation week, I attempted to turn our dramatic play area into an airport. I didn’t do as great of a job with that as I had hoped to do, but the kids still loved it and played in it. I even got some compliments on my airplane (which, if you ask me, wasn’t all that great). We made paper airplanes and flew them around our school gym, we inspected globes, maps, license plates, and fighter pilot attire that one of our parents brought in, we talked about boats and predicted which items in our classroom would sink or float, and we enjoyed creating a school-bus from a huge box that all of the kids could get inside of and play in. I really believe in the power of learning through play and I hope that I’ve given my kids some fun and engaging activities to help enhance their abilities in each of the domains of early childhood development.

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Education, Emotional Fitness, Infertility, Mental Fitness, Teacher Fitness

Working With Children. Coping With Infertility.

Below is an updated version of a blog entry I wrote last year for National Infertility Awareness week. I’d taken the entry off-line and stopped blogging under that name, but since it is NIAW again, I decided to re-post! I hope it will serve as an encouragement to those who work with children while struggling with infertility! 

As a child-care provider, I know how hard it is to go to work every day with children that you absolutely adore, and return home every night with the empty feeling of not being able to have your own. It sucks, frankly. It sucks to get attached to children whose lives you will only be in for a short period of time. It sucks to be around mothers who talk excitedly with one another about their child’s development and the fun things they do with their kids during the weekend. It sucks when you see families that aren’t so great, and you wonder why they are lucky enough to have children they don’t want and you are unlucky enough to want children you don’t have. I get it. And yet, no matter how you’re feeling, you still have to show up to work with a professional and cheerful attitude. You still have to be around and discuss infants, toddlers, and children all.of.the.time. You still have to keep up with all the latest parenting trends and child-development developments. You still have to bring your A-game and make life wonderful for these kids while they’re with you.

So, how do you cope?

Take it minute by minute.

Your infertility is something about which you can feel hopeful, indifferent, and totally depressed within just a few minutes! I have certainly experienced times at work where I have felt blessed and content just to be around my wonderful kids, knowing that at the right time I will get pregnant and have my own. Less than two minutes later, I’m trying to hold it all together as my kids pile up in my lap and ask me to read them a story. You have to deal responsibly with each emotion as it arises. Acknowledge and validate each emotion, but remember that you still have a job to do and the kids you’re with right now are counting on you right now. Don’t let them down.

Remember that many of the children we work with did not come as easily as we think.

Sometimes we look at our daycare kids and think that their moms are so lucky to just be able to pop out babies so easily! I once babysat for one of my students, and his mom revealed to me that they had tried to get pregnant for three years before he was born! Another of my kids’ parents suffered four miscarriages before finally having her son. Hearing these stories really was a great reminder that alot of the parents I am serving have had their own lengthy struggles with infertility as well! It is encouraging to know that after all their struggle, they were finally able to concieve!

Remain grateful for the things you can do, while you can do them.

As professionals who work with children, we have the advantage of not romanticizing motherhood! I have heard some say that a profession in child-care is a form of birth control, because we know the nitty gritty details of what children are really like and we have a pretty good idea of the all-consuming effort it takes to keep a child happy and healthy! Whenever I am hanging out with my husband, I feel grateful that we have the kind of strong and loving relationship that children should be brought into. It’s nice when we can randomly decide to do things together. And I love my lazy Saturdays. Of course, the “inconveniences” of losing free time and sleep won’t bother me as much when I become a mother – because I have waited years for the chance to sit up all night with a fussy baby – but since I currently do not have that responsibility, I try to enjoy the lazy Saturdays and the impromptu Netflix nights with my husband.

Don’t lose yourself in your infertility!

I think that this is probably the most important item on the list. It is incredibly easy to become obsessive with all the charting, doctor visits, symptom spotting, and online comiserating that goes on while you’re in the cycle of two week waits. You can lose yourself. You can forget that you are not your infertility. I will admit that I desperately want to become a mother. If you follow my blog, you know that I feel motherhood is more than a desire – but a calling that God has placed on my life. But I have other interests, too. I have other goals. I have hobbies that don’t relate to childcare and childhood development, and I will not allow my infertility to consume my life. Get back in touch with who you were and what you loved before you started trying for children. Take the opportunity to soak yourself in those things, because hopefully all your free time will soon be zapped away by your precious little bundle of hard work!

Obviously, these things are more easily said (or written) than done. I know that. It’s very hard to keep a good attitude about your infertility, since there is never really an ‘end in sight.’ But if infertility is something you struggle with – and especially if you’re struggling with this while working with children – you should be proud of your ability to bravely and optimistically face what is likely one of the hardest and loneliest times of your life. Approached with the right attitude, you can learn amazing things during this time and your future children (and the world around you) will be better off on account of the things that you have learned how to endure.

Education, Teacher Fitness

The Award For Most Improved

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I am a preschool teacher.
I absolutely love watching children grow and reach milestones in their development. As an infertile, teaching preschool is tough. But as an educator, teaching preschool can be so fulfilling at times.

I have actually  worked with all ages between three months and ten years, but I am currently  working with toddlers and twos. I am a lead teacher in a two’s classroom, and a substitute  teacher for infant and toddler classes when their teachers are out.

In my class, we have ten children, and one of them – we’ll call him “Max” – seemed to have some serious developmental issues. My kids stay with me for a full calendar year, and from the time Max joined our class almost a year ago until just a few months ago (June or July), I really had not seen much development.

My superiors at work were constantly asking if I thought he needed to be placed in special education, while my coworkers shook their heads at him and made comments to me like, “I don’t know how you do it!”  And I have to admit that there were a lot of times where I felt exhausted and truly challenged by this child. But deep inside I knew that Max was/is a typically developing child with no need for special  education  – just a need for more discipline, more boundaries, and higher expectations.

The first  time that I tried talking to his parents, I felt that they were uninterested  in anything I had to say. They seemed annoyed that I would find any sort of fault with their child and they seemed offended by my “implications” of their bad parenting. Perhaps I misread them, but this was the impression that they gave me.

For a long time, the mother barely spoke to me and I have no idea if this  was purposeful  or if she was truly  in a rush. But I felt that she didn’t like me at all! Meanwhile,  Max’s behavior and delayed development  seemed to be getting  worse and worse.

I’m  not sure what changed his parents’ mind, but I think it was when Max hurt another child and we warned them that our director has a three-strikes-you’re-out policy. They seemed to start disciplining more and mom even started talking  to me again!

She informed me that she was going to have him tested for any developmental delays and have him put in speech therapy.  Music to my ears. Of course, I told her my thoughts – which were that I encouraged the testing but honestly did not believe Max was incapable of being (developmentally) where he should  be, but that he was just not doing more than the bare minimum  because it was not required of him.

A specialist came to visit and observe Max during class, and I had a nice, long chat with her. It felt so good to know that she agreed with me and that she would do what she could to help Max’s parents and I get on the same page.

Max is now only a couple of days away from leaving  my class and graduating to the next age group, and thankfully  he is doing much better! I adore this little boy and am so proud of all the progress he has made in these short months. He is talking more, is doing more for himself, is less aggressive, is able to follow directions  and pay attention,  is making  choices (good ones!), and is just an absolutely  adorable  bundle of affection.
I’m so proud of him.

Preschool teachers often feel undervalued  and overworked – even more so than teachers who teach within a school system. We are often seen as little more than glorified babysitters, and we are not often taken seriously  by parents or professionals in other fields.

But seeing improvements in kids like Max and watching these kids gain confidence and independence makes it so worth it.

And I will be so happy if, one day, I can experience this type of pride in a child from a mother’s point of view.

Education, teacher life

Potty Training In The Classroom, Pt.2

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Last week, I started talking about potty training in the classroom! Since there’s so much that can be said about this topic, I decided to split up the things I’ve learned into two blog posts.

The first few tips were that (1) teachers need cooperation from parents, (2) you shouldn’t begin potty training until a child is ready, (3) girls generally train faster than boys, and children with older siblings generally train faster than only children, and finally that (4) one should stick to a routine when potty training! For elaboration on those four tips, check out the first blog entry in this two-part series. Here are the next few tips!

Be patient – expect progress, not perfection!

Teachers are often short on time and trying to do a number of things with a number of different children all at once. So, when you have to take a little time out to take someone to the bathroom, it can be easy to want to rush the process by doing everything for the child (taking off their pants and pull ups, telling them to hurry while they are sitting on the potty, giving them the right amount of tissue with which to wipe – or wiping for them). Try to refrain from doing these things. I have found that when I let my kids go through the entire process on their own (despite how long it can take) they become much more mature, confident, and independent. The key when letting a child potty train on his or her own is not to expect perfection. It’s okay if a child gets to the bathroom, gets a little urine on the floor, and pulls way too much tissue off of the tissue roll. Those are learning moments. Use those moments to tell them things like, “Remember to sit all the way back on the toilet next time!” or “We only need a small square or two of tissue!” They will remember those moments and begin to get better. This is also an excellent time to teach children to dress and undress themselves!

Don’t make children feel bad about their accidents, but do make them participate in their accident!

When a child does #1 or #2 in their pants, they (in some cases) already feel a little bit of guilt about having had the accident, now that they are aware that they are supposed to use the potty. So it isn’t necessary to make the child feel worse. However, you do want the child to see how uncomfortable and how undesirable it is to have accidents. While you are getting the items needed for clean-up, allow them to feel the sensation of wet clothes sticking to their skin. Ask them (nicely) if they think that it’s a good feeling when their pants and underwear are dirty. Usually they say no. Allow them to undress themselves, so that they get a sense of how yucky it makes them feel to have their pants heavy with wetness. Obviously at this point, if you see a child in real distress over the situation it is okay to step in and help them to undress. For some children, this approach won’t work – so you have to know your kids. But for a lot of my kids, they have stopped having accidents after the first one or two because they hated the way it made them feel. They began holding it and only relieving themselves when they are either on the toilet or back into a pull-up! I should note that in this situation it is never okay to make a child clean up his or her own accident. It is unsanitary for the child who does not have proper cleaning capabilities. And it is probably illegal and can certainly get you fired!

They won’t poop right away.

Actually, I do have one child who was not afraid to poop in the toilet immediately after beginning to potty train him. The rest of my kids, however, do not poop until they are well beyond the point of being comfortable with doing #1. In fact, I have even had some children poop in the toilet by accident, and it scared them so much that they totally regressed into not wanting to visit the toilet at all! Some children stop pooping at school when they begin potty training, and it is easy to assume that the child is pooping at home. But if that child isn’t pooping at home, either – their parents may assume that the child is pooping at school! Make sure you let parents know if your child is not pooping at school – and be sure to ask whether they are pooping at home!

This completes my little bit of potty training advice! Please be advised that I am not a potty training expert and am only writing from my personal experiences of the past few years. It is such a great feeling for a teacher when a child he/she has been working with finally begins to use the potty!

Good luck with your potty training efforts!

Education, teacher life

Potty Training In The Classroom, Pt.1

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As a teacher of two year olds, potty training is something that I did on a regular basis. With every child, the experience is different and I was always a little bit nervous when it came time to potty train one of my kids! There is often a lot of pressure from the child’s parents and from the center directors to get the child potty trained in a certain amount of time. With some kids, it’s taken me less than a month to get them fully trained. With others, it’s taken me longer than five months!

I potty trained a child for the first time in 2012 – and I was so nervous about it!! Since then, I have learned a lot about potty training in preschool. Although I am by no means any type of potty training expert – I’d like to share several things I’ve learned along the way!

Teachers NEED cooperation from parents!

Parents – work together with your child’s teacher to make sure your child is potty trained. Stick to the same potty schedule at home that your child is doing at school. If you have agreed only to put your child in underwear – then only put them in underwear! It sends mixed messages to the child when the teacher and parent are doing different things. I’ve had some parents continue to use pull-ups and diapers at home, despite telling me that they were going to stop using them! Those children have more accidents at school than those whose parents stuck to their guns. And I know that accidents are no fun. Trust me. I clean them up all day – and not just the ones your child has. It’s easier when you’re in a rush to just throw a diaper or pull-up on your child and not have to worry that they’ll soil their clothes. But it slows down the process. So don’t agree to underwear-only until you’re sure you’re ready! And speaking of being ready…

Don’t start potty training until the child is ready!

Starting before a child is emotionally and mentally ready for potty training can actually delay the process. A child that would have potty trained in just a few weeks may take months if you start too early. The timing for potty training is a delicate thing, but there are a few signs that I look for when assessing whether or not I think my kids are ready to be potty trained.

The first thing I look for is whether or not they can talk. If they aren’t talking yet, it’ll be a bit more difficult (in an American daycare setting) to potty train. There are plenty of cultures where parents begin potty training from before a child can speak – and I have nothing against that. I know my kids are becoming ready to potty train when they can accurately tell me what’s in their diaper. I had one child who always came to me and said, “I’m poopie!” or “Diaper!” or “Wet-Wet!” (or some combination of the three), and every time she told me what was in her diaper – she was right about what was in there!

Another sign is when they are taking off their own pants/diapers. Yeah, I’ve had that happen, right in the middle of our alphabet rug.

A third sign that a child is ready happens when children who are not potty training happen to get to watch children who are potty training in the bathroom. When a child sees his peers using the toilet, is he engrossed in watching what the potty training children are doing? Or is he more interested in making a mess with the soap on the sink?

Another huge clue for me is when a child whom I have never taken to the bathroom asks me specifically to “go potty.” I had a little girl who always came up to me and said, “My go potty!” Even though she hadn’t started doing anything in the toilet, it was great that she was so enthusiastic about it.

In general, girls train faster than boys, and children with older siblings train faster than children who are the only child.

I’m not sure why girls generally train faster than boys. With one of my boys, I trained him to “go like a boy” by sitting him backward on the toilet. He loved sitting like that and it kept any urine from coming out onto the floor (which happens as a result of a child not sitting far enough back on the toilet seat). He trained really fast! As for children with older siblings – they are more likely to see another child using good bathroom habits on a regular basis than are only children. There is also more help in the home for parents to train the younger child when older children are around.

Stick to a routine!

Teachers, this can be super hard. Especially when you’re not well-staffed! I have definitely had days when I didn’t get my kids to the bathroom on time because of something else that I had to deal with in our classroom (a child throws up, a child bites or hits another child, a child spills something all over the floor, the list goes on). But it’s so important that our kids have that stability in the potty training process – it teaches them to learn to “hold it” if they know that they are going to be going to the bathroom around a certain time of day. And once they’re able to consistently hold their urine or bowel movements long enough to get to a toilet – they’re potty trained!

I have a few more tips to share on this topic, but they’ll have to wait until next week! If you teach twos, what has been your classroom potty-training experience?

Education, teacher life

Separation Anxiety

Today, my center held its annual Easter egg hunt in which children get to dress up (optional), make Easter baskets, and go outside and hunt for eggs filled with lots of fun treats! Parents are always invited to these events, and four of my 9 children had their parents in attendance with us today! This is such a fun event for parents who come and take pictures of their cute little child as he or she cutely hobbles about hunting for eggs. And it was all fun and games until it was time for the parents to leave! My two year olds had a total meltdown! Throwing themselves into walls or on the floor, kicking, jumping, and wildly flapping their arms, all while screaming “Mommy!! Mommy!” as their mothers tried (unsuccessfully) to sneak out of our classroom unnoticed.

I expected this reaction from my kids, as they are only two years old and separation anxiety is a natural part of early childhood. Young children don’t yet have a concept of time, and it is hard for them to grasp when their parent will return. Most of my children still cry when being dropped off in the morning (even though they are used to the routine by now!) and generally only see their parents again at pick-up time. For mommy to show up and not be taking them home!? Oh, the drama that causes!

I’d like to share a few methods I employ to help me deal with a child’s separation anxiety. If you are a childcare provider for young children, this short list might help you too!

1. If ratio is okay, take a walk around your center! I do this for two reasons. The first is that a child always wants to get out of your classroom in the hopes that they’ll see their parent once they are out. Leaving your room and walking around shows them that mommy and daddy are not still in the building somewhere – and you are not keeping them hostage! The second reason I do this is because it is a good distraction, the children can see other kids playing, they can look at the neat wall displays of each classroom, they can say hi to other teachers, etc. By the time the walk is finished – they are usually okay.

2. Ask the child to help you with something! Most children love to feel independent and useful. I have asked my twos to help me with things such as getting breakfast ready for the rest of the kids, setting the table, or throwing something in the trashcan. Don’t forget to give lots of praise for the successfully accomplished task!

3. Distraction with songs, toys, games, or books! This is probably the oldest trick in the book! Mommy goes away and suddenly a cool truck, doll, or favorite book appears! More musically inclined kids might even ask you to sing to them (I’ve had that happen!) and once they start singing/playing along – they’re on the path to feeling better!

4. Ask them to show you their clothes, toys, or books! In the same vein, asking children to show you things helps them to feel proud of themselves and engages them in conversation. This one doesn’t work for everyone. But I’ve had some kids who talked to me about their new Hello Kitty light up shoes for nearly thirty minutes after mom left! (I was sorry I’d brought up the shoes!)

5. Invite a friend! Asking one of the child’s friends to come over and play with the upset child accomplishes not only distracting the child, but teaching the other children about empathy. When we use sentences like, “Jimmy is sad. Can you help make him feel better?” We are teaching children to recognize when someone is upset, and that we can do something to help others.

It isn’t a good idea to mention mommy or daddy during this time – even in song! For example, I wouldn’t sing the “5 little monkeys jumping on the bed” song because one of the lines in the song is “mama called the doctor…” It’s also not always a good idea to try and distract an older (1.5-3years) ‘separated and anxious’ child with a physical game like tickling or tossing them up in the air. This generally only serves to aggrivate them further.

In my case, I and my colleagues were able to get through lunch and through the transition into naptime by working together to comfort all of our crying munchkins. After nap, all the kids felt better and were ready to get on with the second half of our day together!

Good times! 🙂