Thursday, October 18, 2012

Telling the Story of ECE

As an ECE professional, you spend most of your day making sure the everyday needs of everyone around you are met, but rarely are you able to take the time to advocate for the big needs of the children, family, staff, and field you serve.  However, an election year provides the perfect time and platform for our field to speak up. 
While Early Learning is getting little attention at the national level, education is in general and that gives those of us who work with children everyday the chance to expand the conversation about education to include Early Learning.  You do not have to participate on national television, but just be prepared to advocate for the things you need to make your program better. 
Advocate when you see a news story about education by commenting on how Early Learning contributes to children’s success.  You can, also, add your voice about how Early Learning reduces a child’s chances that they will be incarcerated when you hear stories about ways to reduce crime.   Since ECE rarely gets positive press, invite the local media to do a story about your program and how it benefits your families, or just about how much fun the kids are having scrapping out pumpkins.  Share information with your families about the economics of Early Learning.  Share your stories about how the Child Care Assistance Program benefits the families you serve, or how the reimbursements rates impact your ability to operate your program.   Add your story in the comment section of a news report about Early Learning. Send a letter or email to candidates about what you would like them to do for ECE or to thank you them for what they have done.

Advocacy at it’s very essence is about telling short stories, and I am sure you have one that needs to be told and heard.  So speak up, shout it out, write about it.  I am for one can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

With Kind Regards,


“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
-George Bernard Shaw


Monday, October 8, 2012

The Role of Regulations on Parental Choices

As I was observing a group of preschoolers (who bring a sack lunch) eat lunch, I noted that most of their lunches did not meet the requirements of the USDA Food program, and I began to wonder how we could encourage parents to meet those requirements and the challenges of doing so.  There are regulations that require that all food served to children meet the requirements of the USDA, and it is part of the Environment Rating Scales so on one hand it seems like an easy thing to do, but in actuality it is not easy to get parents to provide a meal exactly as the USDA would like them to.  And as a parent, I have to say that I resent being told what to pack for my child's lunch.

My son, like many children, is not a vegetable eater. The joke around our house is that offer him tongue, octopus, or eel and we have a winner, but suggest broccoli and you might as well have just told him he must eat poison.  When he was a preschooler, he would not eat the vegetables in his lunch, no matter how attractive I made them or even if they were his favorites, so I stopped packing a vegetable.  I did pack a fruit, grain, protein, and milk . . . well, most of the time there was milk.  It just seemed silly to pack something I knew he would not eat, and I, also, knew that he got his vegetables at home (where he would actually eat them) and that we eat a healthy diet- hence, my resentment.

As a result, I do not relish the idea of telling families how they must feed their child, but I do understand the intent behind these regulations, and as a provider would find it easier to tell a parent that the law says you just have to do this.  I want parents to choose healthy food for their children, but I am wondering what role should child care regulations have on how parents choose to raise their child, and how do we encourage parents to make positive choices for their children?

Of course, lunches are only an example of the ways we want to keep children healthy and safe, and issues we need to educate parents about.  So what are the ways you think we can accomplish this and what role do you see regulations playing, if any?

With Warm Regards,


P.S. On a different note, I am conducting a survey to see what the financial needs of preschools are, and what types of funding they are recieving.  If you are an administrator in an EL program, please take a moment to take this survey (I promise it will be quick).
Funding Survey

"The older I get, the more I marvel at the wisdom of children."


Friday, September 7, 2012

Preparing Children and Families for Negative Events

Scary and painful events happen everyday, but the recent tragedies, remind us that young children are not immune from these events.  These tragedies, made by both humans and nature, across our nation sparked numerous articles on how to help children cope with tragedy and trauma.  Luckily, parents will be able to find these resources so they can better understand how to support their child through this time. However, why begin only addressing the negatives in life after one has happened?  We tend to underestimate what children can handle, and avoid subjects we find uncomfortable. For example, a brief search on how to prepare children for traumatic events brought up resources for helping children cope with trauma after it happened, but not how to prepare children for the inevitable challenges we all face in life.

Most parents feel uncomfortable addressing issues that are painful with children, and ECE providers often feel that this is not their purview. However, since many children spend most of their weekdays in some from of care outside of the home- where else is it going to happen and how do ECE providers support parents in helping their child develop resilience around challenges? The two most important things that ECE professionals can do to help children are to promote resiliency within your program and to help children understand that negatives happen but life goes on.

As ECE professionals we cannot ignore painful events that children encounter, and to do so would devalue the child's experience.  However, we can help both parents and children prepare for these events by normalizing that sad things happen to everyone, and support children through these difficult times.  This does not mean that we go into graphic detail of every negative thing that can happen, but it does mean not ignoring that they happen.  Many children's books address these issues in an age-appropriate manner that helps to normalize difficult situations.

Here are some ideas for addressing these issues in your program so that children will not be surprised that negative things happen and they will have the skills to handle them:

  • Share titles of children's books that deal with these difficult topics with the parents in your program, and let them know that you read books about painful events.   
  • Provide parents with articles on how to talk about issues, such as death, divorce, and crime.
  • Encourage parents to talk with their children about events they may have heard on the news, to acknowledge their child's fears, and to reassure their child that they will do everything possible to keep them safe.
  • If children have heard something on the news, do not avoid talking about it with them. Give simple answers that are age-appropriate, and emphasize the positive. For example, if a child hears that there was a shooting, acknowledge it, and remind them that the police are working to keep us safe.
  • As Mr. Roger's mother said, "Focus on the helpers." Help children understand that no matter what there will people who will help them and that they can help as well.
  • Promote resiliency in your program by encouraging children to express themselves, asking children to listen to others, giving children jobs, encouraging children to help one another, and talking about your own emotions.
The path to promoting resiliency in children is rife with dangers of going to far so trend lightly, but don't let the risks keep you from walking that path.  We never know when the next tragedy will strike, and it is better to be prepared than to feel sideswiped.  Our children need to know that they are capable individuals with people who will support them no matter what.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Unintended Messages We Send

Recently, I listened to a story on NPR about the young gymnast, Gabby Douglas, and the criticism she received over her hair not looking good enough despite having won gold in the Olympics.  The author made the point that if Gabby can win gold who cares about her hair, and that the message  we should send young women is that the substantive should triumph over the superficial.  I absolutely agree, but it reminded me of a time that I directed a program and was told that the reason the parents did not want their children to get dirty was  because the families were low income and were afraid social services would consider taking their children for neglect if they did not always look their best.  I remember thinking that was silly, that child development demanded that we focus on giving children a play-based, experiential environment, and, of course, social services would understand that.  But even at the time, that comment gave me pause about the messages we send children, and others.  It is the others I am more concerned about in this blog.

For some people looking your best at all times is paramount and to be seen looking less than perfect in public humiliates the person who doesn't look their best.  I think this view transcends race, class, and culture, although undoubtedly all play a role.  This view has historical roots that still persist, although there are people who work to buck this system.  But the prevalence of this viewpoint frequently plays out in ECE classrooms since parents, for various reasons, may not want their child to get dirty. This often leads to conflicts between parents and staff in ECE programs.

Unfortunately, these types of conflicts inhibit a program's or teacher's ability to develop strong relationships with parents.  Parents, particularly those who are disenfranchised, may feel at the mercy of those they see with more power, education, expertise, etc, and will not question them.  However,  even if they are silent they may feel unappreciated, devalued, and unheard.  This bring me back to my experience as a director at a time when I did not fully appreciate parental choices, backgrounds, values, and cultures, and as such did not handle the situation as well I may have.

To be fair to myself, I did try to find solutions such as asking parents to bring in an extra pair of clothes that we would change the child into before they went home, encouraging parents to send their child in old clothes, and having the child wear a smock.  But what I did not do was to appreciate where they parents were coming from, and since we generally know when someone does not respect our point of view, I am sure the parents felt it. And I deeply regret that the message I sent was that the parents were being silly.  

Learning how to really respect, and honor anther's viewpoint means hard work that often requires looking at ourselves in uncomfortable ways, and finding humility.  And who really wants to go through that kind of work?  This is not to say that you can't have a philosophy about messy play within your program, but it does mean that you need to be willing to listen, understand, and come up with a mutual solution.

After all, those are the skills we try to teach the children, and if you want to have a strong, trusting relationship with parents it is work that must be done.   If parents are ever to become our allies in the  fight for recognition and funding for ECE. we must first become their allies.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Mahatma Ghandi 


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Suspension in the Early Years

In late March, the Huffington Post ran an article by Laura Bornfreund titled Why Suspension Makes No Sense in the Early Grades which summarized recent research on why suspension is ineffective in the early grades.  While working with Early Learning programs, I witnessed suspension being used for children as young as 2.  It is a common practice in our schools, both elementary and preschools, and the reasons for it's use are complex.

Historically, suspension has been seen as a method to motivate students into complying with how the teacher wishes them to behave.  The thinking behind this goes something like this- if you suspend a child they will realize how very egregious their behavior was, and will, never, never do it again.  While again, even in later years, research invalidates this as an outcome of suspension in most cases, it makes even less sense in the Early Learning years when children do not link a behavior they did yesterday to what is happening today. 

This brings me to the second reason suspension occurs so commonly in our schools which consists of the belief that the child wants to get a good education so if this is taken away from them they will behave so they can have that education they so desire.  While that sounds laughable printed out it is a common belief in our culture and for some no amount of evidence to the contrary can contradict it.  Even when the evidence against this continues to mount.  Not everyone values education or sees how it will benefit them. And in today's economy there are some strong reasons (I am a strong advocate of education for more than economic reasons) to think education may not be a benefit.  Secondly, young children cannot see the long-term benefit of their education. They live in the moment and in the moment of suspension it means they get to be home with Mom and Dad. 

Many teachers (and parents) fall back on suspension due to the fact that the skills for handling negative behaviors are simply not taught and as a result teachers are ill-equipped to handle them. Traditionally, many people think that children should just know what to do to as if this is somehow magically transmitted to them in the womb. This removes the burden off the adult to teach appropriate behavior and places it on the child for acting willfully disobedient.   While children do act willfully disobediently at times, removal from social and educational activities creates an easy way out for the teachers  rather than teaching the child appropriate behaviors, how to solve problems, and how to work with others (of course, if you look at politics you see the results of these skills not being taught!). 

Another critical factor of this issue stems from lack of resources such a Mental Health consulting, assessments of child's development, and parent education classes in Early Learning programs.  These resources facilitate Early Learning professionals supporting children with challenging behaviors and/or developmental issues.   However, availability of these resources exist in only a few programs, and often the availablity of those exist at a minimum.  I experienced  waiting, at least, 3 months to have my child's hearing and language development accessed when concerns about his speech arose following several ear infections.   Insurance covers hearing tests, but not language testing.

But regardless of the reasons, the use of suspension disregards all evidence of how young children think and learn. And it is up to us to respond to negative behavior in an age appropriate manner, and to demand the resources we need to effectively meet children's needs. This is a systems issue, and needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner so that every child reaches their potential.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What is ECE Most Afraid Of?

A quiet, unassuming discussion group on the LinkedIn Zero to Three Discussion forum highlights an  interesting divide between providers that points to some very different views of what the field of Early Learning should look like, and how providers view themselves.  The discussion about how ECE can attract well-educated professionals to the field turned towards how low pay keeps people from staying in the field and colleges from recommending their students to go into ECE.  However, there are those (few admittedly on this discussion group) who do not see pay as the issue, and point to the fact that they went into the field because they love children, not for the pay.

This brings me back to my early days in the field when I started working with my local Worthy Wage campaign, and people would say to me that if I really loved children I wouldn't ask for more pay and others said they didn't want anyone to think that they were just in it for the money.  And that is the greatest fear of some of those in the field- that if they ask for a living (or, God forbid, a professional) wage they will be viewed as being selfish.  And no one wants to be seen as selfish so the field perpetuates a sense of martyrdom within itself by focusing on affordability at the expense of wages for the professionals who provide direct services to children.

And while it is absolutely essential that the people in this field love children does that mean that they should be martyrs who sacrifice their standard of living? And does relying on people who see themselves this way really meet the needs of children and their families? It is time for ECE to reflect on these issues within our programs and in the larger Early Learning community.  This is not just an exercise in the hypothetical though, how ECE providers view themselves will determine how the rest of society sees the field and ultimately what the field evolves into.   

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Are Tuition Rates Too Low to Fund Quality?

Traditionally, child rearing has been viewed as a personal responsibility, and, as such, funding for Early Learning programs has come from parents through tuition with some subsidies for low-income families from the government and foundations. Since many families have limited resources, tuition has been seen as needing to stay low relative to the actual costs of running a high quality program.  Focusing on keeping tuition affordable has been a reasonable effort considering the little support that ECE receives from the larger society, and the amount that tuition can take from the average families budget.  This amount can range between 7 and 29 percent depending on the parents level of income.  This makes the choices parents make when choosing child care difficult, and leads many to choose to low quality, unlicensed care.

In response. many Early Learning programs do not raise tuition (sometimes for years) to keep parents from leaving for low cost alternatives. Unfortunately, the impact of low tuition has often been at the expense of quality, including recruiting and retaining well-educated staff.  When programs cannot afford to pay staff a living wage, not to mention a professional wage, staff are less committed to their profession, have less education, and are more likely to leave from something with better pay.

In addition, low tuition impacts a program's ability to purchase materials to promote learning, replace materials that have become broken, hire support staff, or promote teacher's professional development.  Director's end up spending their time cleaning, cooking, or working in the classroom which leaves them unable to prepare for staff meetings or in-services, develop a strategic plan, apply for grants, mentor staff, or recruit volunteers.   
All of these consequences negatively impact the quality of care that children receive by minimizing the use and understanding of best practices, reducing teacher's ability to be responsive to children's needs, preventing children from forming strong relationships with their teachers, and the lack of  support from other professionals to foster the entire child's development.  Director's often report feeling that they cannot keep up- let alone make gains to improve quality.  It is a situation comparable to Sisyphus who was condemned to roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll back down once he reached the top.

Even when directors understand the impact of inadequate tuition, they and their programs choose to keep it below the cost of quality in an effort to meet parent's needs and to keep parents as partners.  However, parents need a high quality, stable, educational environment for their child and that can only be sustained with adequate funding. 

As Tony Robbins said "By changing nothing, nothing changes" and funding will not increase unless ECE professionals demand it.  It is time for Early Learning programs to charge the true costs of quality care as all other industries do.  It will be a difficult conversation to have with parents, but it is up to ECE professionals to help parents understand the costs involved, how it benefits their children, and to engage their support in working towards a system that funds quality.