Happy Thanksgiving! 

When certain holidays come around, I struggle with teaching my students about them in a way that honors those who experienced great pain while not trashing those who were victorious in their efforts to conquer. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but I can’t help but think of all the people who’ve been pushed aside and displaced as a result of the appearance of colonists. 

In my classroom, I spent a lot of time this month teaching my kids about various Native American tribes. We looked at maps of tribal territories, read stories from the Lakota and Blackfoot tribes, talked about (and built) various types of tipis, played “memory,” with home made Native American symbol cards, talked about foods that Native Americans ate (and sorted them into food groups), and learned a few words from different tribes. I wanted to honor Native Americans for who they are as people, outside of and apart from their relations with colonists. I wanted my students to learn about Native American cultures without making the native Americans into some sort of cliche art project. 

My friend Shannon at The After Crafter enjoys crafting with her toddler, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving and honoring all things Native American, I asked if she could share her totem pole crafts here on Whole Heart. I really love that she researched both the meaning of totem poles and the symbolism of the various animals used in her totem pole as part of creating her project. Here is some of what she learned:

“I️ have always had a fascination with totem poles. They look so mystic, like they are patiently waiting to reveal a library of stories to anyone willing to listen. When my friend spoke to me about doing a craft commemorating Native Americans, I knew immediately this is what I would make. Here are some neat things I found out:

🍗Totem poles are sculptures carved into large trees by only SIX tribes of indigenous peoples of the Northwest coast of North America.

🍖The poles are carved and painted with figures or animals that represent families or clans, and are believed to have spiritual significance as a guardian or helper.

🥐 Every color used on the poles have meanings, as do the figures carved on the poles. The Symbols for every animal or spirit carved on the pole also have meaning and when combined on the pole, in sequence, constitute a story, legend or myth.

While planning my pole I decided to let my daughter choose the four animals we would make. Just for fun I looked up the meaning of each animal totem to see what our story would be.

🐇: Pour your energy into creative pursuits

Those with a rabbit totem are spontaneous and unpredictable. They have fast reflexes, and good coordination. They are gentle and nurturing yet also clever and quick witted.

🦉: Listen to your inner voice and watch for signs that will guide you forward. Use wisdom.

🐻: It’s only when you can say a clear no that you can say a clear yes. Both are just as important in defining what your boundaries are. Those with a bear totem have great confidence and are seen as an authority figure.

🐘: You already have all the tools you need to accomplish what you desire, just go for it. Elephant totems are highly intelligent. Family and loyalty are important.

Making our totem pole was really fun and a great learning experience. Make sure to comment below and tell us your totem experiences!”

Check her out! https://m.facebook.com/thehealthycrafter/

As a teacher, I love learning and teaching about various cultures and finding ways to honor them without voiding the authenticity and meaning behind the art form. I am grateful for the various Native cultures and I hope to continue learning about them, not just during the Thanksgiving season! 

Have a happy and safe holiday! 

Arts and Crafts/Creativity

Designing My Classroom Door

For a preschool teacher, I  consider myself to be pretty terrible at art. I tend to shy away from wanting to design doors and big wall spaces, because I just don’t feel that I have the gift of visual creativity. This past week, however, I spent some time designing our classroom door for the Winter season and I was pretty impressed with myself and wanted to share!
One of our parents is an elementary school teacher and always brings in leftover things from her classroom that she thinks we can use. I am so grateful that her son is in our class because she has brought in so many useful toys, books, and craft materials. A few weeks ago, she brought in some perfectly cut snowflakes and I knew when I saw them that I would want to use them on our classroom door – I just wasn’t quite sure what type of design I would want, or how I would go about creating it.

As I was browsing Pinterest, I saw a really cute classroom door featuring owls, snow, and the words “Whoo baby, it’s cold outside !” I knew this idea would be perfect for our class, because we are the Owls.

I went around my school, looking for enough brown paper (to make the tree branches), and black paper to make it look like night-time.

We didn’t have any black board paper so I used a soft lilac color instead. I lined the door with purple paper, crinkled up the brown paper to make the tree look more realistic, and scattered the snowflakes and cotton balls around the door. We have about a million owl cut outs in our room, so I chose three to place in the tree branches.

One of the differences between our door and the pinterest door is that our door window is a lot wider. Instead of using letter stencils to write “Whoo baby, it’s cold outside,” I simply wrote it on our door with a glass marker.

Many times people joke about how their version of a pinterest creation pales drastically in comparison to the original, but I am  happy to be able to say that our door is just as good as the original on which it was modeled!

Here is a picture of the original that I found on Pinterest:

I don’t brag often, but this artistically challenged preschool teacher feels pretty good about our classroom door and all the compliments it has gotten!

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 life

Potty Training In The Classroom, Pt.2


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


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! 🙂