Tag Archives: baby

Great Classes for Kids AND Parents: Parent Education & Coop Preschools

Classrooms in the Bellevue College Program

Classrooms in the Bellevue College Program – click for larger view

Are you a parent of a baby, toddler, or preschool age child? Are you looking for:

  • A place where your child can explore toys, do art, hear stories, sing songs, and make friends? (And use up some energy on a cold winter day?)
  • A fun activity to do with your child where s/he learns new skills and you get new ideas?
  • Opportunities to meet other families and build community?
  • Expert advice and research-based information about parenting and child development?
  • Support from professionals and other parents for the challenges of life with a little one?

You can find all these great opportunities in one place!

In the Seattle area, our community colleges sponsor parent education programs, including parent-child programs and cooperative preschools, which are a fabulous resource for families. For children, classes offer hands-on learning, discovery and play. For adults, they offer on-going education on all topics related to parenting, plus connections to other parents.

What is the children’s experience like?

The programs are play-based, because research shows children learn best through hands-on exploration in places where they feel safe and free to explore. Each classroom has several stations around the room, with developmentally appropriate activities to help kids build the skills they need. Children are encouraged to move around and explore at their own pace. In parent-child programs (aka “mommy and me classes”) for babies and toddlers, parents play along with their children. In coop preschools, working parents are assigned to a station. Activities vary by age, but might include:

  • Art activities: play-dough to roll, easels to paint at, markers for learning to write
  • Sensory activities: tubs of water or rice or beans to scoop, pour, stir, and run fingers through
  • Large motor: mats for tumbling, tunnels to crawl through, climbers and slides, balls to throw, dancing and movement games
  • Small motor: blocks to stack, puzzles to assemble, shape sorters to solve, beads to thread, and building toys for construction
  • Imaginary play: dress up zone for trying on new roles, dolls to care for, kitchen for “cooking”
  • Science and nature experiences: seeds to plant, tadpoles to watch, items from nature to explore
  • Snack time: a place to practice social skills and table manners and to discover new foods

click for larger view

Classes also include “circle time” or “music class” where the teacher leads the class in singing songs, dancing, playing musical instruments, and reading stories. This is a chance for children to practice sitting still, listening to a teacher, and participating in a group activity, all essential skills for kindergarten readiness. Academic skill-building (reading, writing, pre-math skills) is integrated into all types of activities.

What makes these children’s programs different from other programs?

Diverse Experiences in One Familiar Setting: Most children’s programs focus on one domain of learning: dance class, art class, story time, music class, or tumbling. These programs do it all. And they do it in a known space where the child feels safe and comfortable. Some of the same toys activities reappear from week to week to provide reassurance and routine, and some new toys and activities rotate in to encourage children to explore and try new things.

Long-Term Relationships: Lots of programs run in short sessions of 4 – 6 classes. Parent ed programs run for the full school year. Seeing the same children week after week allows kids to build friendships.

Close parental involvement: Parents are always welcome in the classroom.

What are they like from the parent perspective: how do they work?

Each program works a bit differently, so check to be sure of the details, but here is the general idea:

Parent-infant Classes and Parent-Toddler Classes: Meet weekly for two hours. Every other week, the parents attend a one hour parent education session. In infant classes (for babies birth to one year old), the baby remains with the parent for parent ed. In toddler classes (for one-year-old and two-year-old toddlers), children are encouraged to play in one room with the children’s teachers and other parents while their parent attends parent ed.

Staffing and Parents’ Role: Each class is staffed by a parent educator and one or two children’s teachers. Parents provide snacks for the class on a rotating basis. Each family may bring snacks 1 – 3 times a year. Parents may also be asked to help tidy up the toys at the end of the class.

Cooperative Preschools:Three-year-olds may attend 2 or 3 days a week, four-year-olds attend 3 or 4 days a week. Typically, the parent stays with the child and works in the classroom one day per week, and the other days are “drop-off” preschool for that family. Classes may be 2 – 3 hours long.

Staffing: There is a preschool teacher, trained in early childhood education, who is responsible for planning and coordinating the children’s activities, and leading group times. A parent educator observes / consults during some class sessions, and offers a monthly parent education session plus one-on-one expert parenting advice.

Parents contribute by working in the classroom once a week. They also help with the running of the school by: providing snacks, fundraising support, helping with end-of-year cleanings, serving on the board (chair, treasurer, secretary, etc.), or as class photographer, play-dough maker, etc.

Length of program: Most classes (parent-child and coops) meet for the full school year – September through May. [Note: you may be able to enroll mid-year, if there are spaces available. Check with the programs to find out.] Some have summer programs.

What do Programs Cost?

For some programs, you pay by the month, some by the quarter, some by the year. If you look at the cost for a quarter (11 weeks) or year (33 weeks), it may look like a lot compared to other children’s activities in the community. So, to compare apples to apples, it’s best to look at it as cost-per-hour. Infant and toddler groups at our local community colleges range from $7.50 – 11.50 per hour. For comparison’s sake, here’s what a sample of other programs cost on an hourly basis:

  • Big motor activities: Gymboree $30, Gymnastics East $20, Northwest Aerials $13
  • Parent education and support: Mommy Matters $22 plus child care costs. Baby Peppers $10.
  • Art programs: Kidsquest $17 per hour. Kirkland Parks $13. Kirkland Arts Center $10.
  • Music programs: Kindermusik $22, Kirkland Parks $11. Bellevue Parks $21.

Cooperative preschools in these programs range from $7.50 – 10.00 an hour. For comparison sake:

  • Bellevue public schools, $10 per hour. Bellevue Boys & Girls Club $10. Bellevue Christian School $11. Bellevue Montessori $18. Jewish Day School $19. Villa Academy $18. Seattle Waldorf $22. Cedar Crest $24.
  • Note: most preschools have an adult/child ratio ranging from 1:6 – 1:9. At a coop, the ratio may be 1:3 or 1:4.

All the parent education programs and cooperative preschools offer scholarships to lower income families which can further reduce the cost.

What makes these programs different from other programs?

College credit and student privileges: Parent education programs are college classes, and parents receive college credit for attending. They can also receive student ID cards, which depending on the school may give access to services such as fitness center or gym access. They may also allow you to get student discounts at a wide variety of local and online businesses.

Parent Education: Experienced professional educators offer information that is current and research-based but also relevant to the day-to-day reality of parenting little ones. Topics are tailored to the age and needs of the families, but may include: daily routines, discipline, child development, early learning, nutrition, potty training, emotional intelligence, kindergarten readiness, and self-care for parents.

Individualized Advice: Parent educators and children’s teachers have the opportunity to get to know each child as an individual, and also get to know parents well. This allows them to answer questions in a highly personalized way. They can also refer on for additional services when needed.

Parent Involvement: Participating in your child’s classroom from day one encourages you to think of yourself as an active participant in your child’s learning and an advocate for them in future classrooms. You’ll know the other children and can help your child learn about them. You’ll know what happened in class, so you can later reinforce the learning. Seeing classroom activities may give you new ideas for what you can do at home to enhance your child’s development. Having the opportunity to observe other children each week helps give you a deeper understanding of child development, and seeing parents respond to their children shows you options for parenting style.

Peer Support and Long-Term Relationships: Parents meet with other parents over the course of many months, which allows for long-term connections. Working together on projects strengthens those bonds, as does the peer support gained when parents discuss and share the joys and challenges of caring for kids.

Programs offer classes for families with children from birth through age 5, so instead of having to search for new classes every month or every year, you always know where you can find a fun and educational class for you and your child.

Learn More about Programs Near You and Register Now!

All the most current contact information for these programs can be found at the bottom of this page: https://gooddayswithkids.com/parent-ed-at-colleges/

Hands On is Brains On

I recently did a presentation at Kidsquest Children’s Museum in Bellevue, WA on how kids learn, titled Hands On is Brains On.

It combines information on the basics of brain development, ideas about the important of offering a balance of learning opportunities, the benefits of free play, and the parent/teacher’s role in play-based learning.

You can check out the powerpoint handout here, or, if you’re a parent educator, you can download a powerpoint presentation that you could edit and use in your own classroom.

Car Seats – Don’t Hurry to the Next Stage

Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of child death in the United States. Proper use of the proper car seat can hugely reduce the risks. There are four stages of car safety restraints. To maximize safety, keep your child in each level of seat as long as possible, until they reach the maximum height and weight for that seat. Each stage provides less protection. Don’t move your child to the next stage until you have to. This is NOT one of the places where we want to rush our kids along to the next developmental milestone!

Note: To choose the right level seat for your child, it is more important to consider their height and weight than their age. (So, if your child is small for their age, they may be in a seat longer than age recommendations say.)

Rear-Facing. (Birth to age 2 or beyond)rear-facing car seat
Infant Seat. Weight from 4 pounds to 22 – 35 pounds and height up to 29 – 32 inches, depending on the seat. Convertible Seat. Weight from 5 or 20 pounds minimum to 45 pounds maximum rear-facing, maximum height 40 inches.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says “All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.” Riding rear-facing helps to protect a child’s fragile neck and spinal cord, and reduces the risk of severe injury by 75%.

Many parents notice that as their toddler grows, there is less room for their legs, and they have to bend their legs or sit cross-legged in order to fit. They wonder if they should turn the child forward. As a car seat technician told me: “yes, there’s a minor risk of broken legs in an accident. But, broken legs are much easier to heal from then a broken neck, which is more likely if they’re forward facing.”

forward-facing car seatForward-Facing Car Seat with a 5-point Harness. (Age 2 to 7)
Should never be used for a child less than 20 pounds or less than one year old.
Maximum weight 35 – 70 pounds. Max height up to 50 inches.

These seats are equipped with a 5 point harness. In a crash, that harness keeps the child in the seat and helps distribute the force of the crash to the strongest parts of the child’s body. Use for as long as possible, as they provide more support and protection than a booster seat. Your child is ready for a booster when he reaches the top weight and height allowed for his car seat (shoulders are above the top harness slots and his ears have reached the top of the seat.)

You may find as your child gets older that they are riding in other people’s cars more often (for field trips, playdates, and so on). Make sure the person who is transporting your child knows how to install the seat or booster properly.  Some parents choose to use an easy-to-install booster for these occasional trips once their child hits the minimum size, while continuing to use a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness in their own car for the majority of car rides.

boostBooster Seat. (Age 4 – 8 or beyond)
Up to 100 – 120 pounds. Maximum heights from 34 – 63”.

Washington requires that children use a safety seat until they’re at least 8 years old or taller than 4’9” (57”) whichever comes first. (Note: Less than 5% of kids are taller than 4’9” at 8 years old. 25% don’t reach 4’9” until they are almost 12 years old.)

Boosters properly position the adult lap and shoulder belt for a child, so it provides proper restraint in case of an accident.

Your car must have a lap and shoulder belt to use a booster. If your car only has lap belts, you can use a forward-facing car seat with a harness or see if shoulder belts can be installed in your car. There are backless booster seats, which are generally less expensive and easier to carry. There are high-back boosters, which should be used in cars without head rests or with low seat backs.

Seat Belt. (Age 8 or older)
If your child is 8 – 12 years old or at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, AND you can answer yes to these questions, then they’re ready to move out of a booster seat.

  • When the child is sitting all the way back against the vehicle seat, do the child’s knees Seat beltbend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
  • Does the lap belt stay on the top of the child’s thighs, not on their belly?
  • Is the shoulder belt centered on the child’s chest and shoulder (and not on the neck or throat)?

Can the child stay seated this way for the whole trip? Without putting the shoulder part of their seat belt under their arm or behind their back?

Front Seat. By Washington law, all children should ride in the back seat until age 13.
(Exceptions for: pickup trucks or sports cars with no back seat, or if the back seat is filled with younger children)

Air bags are very dangerous to children riding in rear-facing car seats. If your vehicle has a front passenger air bag, infants in rear-facing seats must ride in the back. If a young child must ride in the front seat of the car, check your vehicle owner’s manual to learn how to turn off the air bag.

Choosing a Car Seat: Choose a car seat that is easy for you to use, so that you will use it right every time. NHTSA offers ease of use ratings for all the car seats on the market: http://www.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa_eou/

If your child is likely to be tall or heavy for their age, choose a seat with higher maximum weight and height to allow your child to use that car seat as long as possible.

Install the Car Seat Properly. For a car seat to work correctly, it must be installed correctly. Check the web resources below for information on car seat installation, and read your car seat manual and your vehicle manual for tips. Once you’ve installed a seat, you can have it checked for free. See www.800bucklup.org/carseat/inspections.asp for a list of inspectors.

Clothing. If a child is dressed in bulky clothing, the car seat may not properly restrain them in case of a crash. In the winter time, buckle your child into the seat without a coat on, and then place the coat or a blanket over the harness for warmth.

Other Objects. In case of an accident, loose objects in the car can fly around and strike passengers, and if your child is holding a hard object, it could hit them, causing injury. Keep this in mind as you do your best to keep your car tidy and consider what your child has access to in the car.

Be a Good Role Model. Always buckle up yourself. Always encourage all the other adults in the car to buckle up. Practice safe driving practices with minimal distractions. Your children will be driving themselves in just a few years, and they will have learned a lot about driving by watching you from the back seat. Make sure you are showing the behavior you want them to learn.

I think of motor vehicle safety as what I call a “red light” issue. When I teach safety skills to children, or talk to parents about safety skills, I think about “green light” situations with no risk of harm, “yellow lights” where we just let them know to be careful, “orange lights” where we only allow them to do something with very close adult supervision, and “red lights” which are absolute rules, set by the parents, and followed all the time in order to keep the child safe. Riding in the proper seat, properly buckled is mandatory. (To learn more about my thoughts on teaching safety skills, click here. And to learn about letting a child take reasonable risks as a learning experience, click here.)

More info: www.800bucklup.org; www.safercar.gov/parents; www.healthychildren.org

In this post, I reference Washington State laws. To learn the laws in your state, visit: http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/childsafety_laws.html

For a printable handout of this information, click here.

Illustrations from healthychildren.org

Resources for Choosing Child Care

from naeyc.org

from naeyc.org

I’m often asked for advice in choosing a child care or choosing a preschool. Here are some great resources about what to look for, and questions to ask. They also offer referrals to child cares in your area.

http://families.naeyc.org/ – The National Association for the Education of Young Children. They have great resources on choosing child care (see the infographic at the top of the post). I like that they divide off sections on quality care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, because although you’re looking for many of the same things, there are also differences in what counts as quality child care for a 3 month old and a 3 year old. They also have a directory to search for NAEYC accredited child care centers and preschools.

www.childcareaware.org: Child Care Aware of America. They have great articles on choosing child care, and also a state-by-state list of: agencies that do referrals, child care licensing regulations, inspection reports, resources for children with special needs, and more. A fabulous resource!

www.childcare.org: This is Child Care Resources, based in Washington state. They have lots of good info on making the choice, but some of their info (like about their referral line) is only relevant for Washington residents. They have an 18 page guide on Choosing a Nanny

For those who are using / will be using a family member to provide child care, here’s a couple good articles on setting clear expectations and resolving conflicts: Should you hire a family member for childcare, and When Family Members are your Child’s Caregiver.

Schemas of Play

large_7461108728 (2)Have you ever known a child who was continuously filling up a basket and carrying it around the room? Or a child who loved to take objects and line them up in long lines? Or one who had a passion for throwing objects and would do throw all objects whether or not it was appropriate? Or one who only played with things with wheels? Those patterns of repeating behavior can be organized into “schemas” of play.

What is a schematic behavior?

Schema are building blocks for the brain. When a child is able to guide his own play, you’ll often see him exploring things in a predictable, repeated method, testing and experimenting with several objects in turn. This process helps him forge connections in the brain, helps him predict what might happen, and refine his understanding based on the results. Some children cycle through all of these schema every day.

But some children will focus intensely on one schema for a period of days or weeks (or months). Parents may worry that their child is obsessed, or that she will never let go of this one way of interacting with the world, but this is normal developmental behavior.

If a parent of caregiver can  recognize which schema a child is currently most focused on, they can tailor learning experiences to appeal to those interests while still providing a breadth of learning experiences. Sometimes children will pursue their schema in ways that are inappropriate (like throwing things in an enclosed space, or climbing on the furniture) so it is helpful to have other ways to direct that “trajectory” urge or the “positioning” desire.

Activities that Support, Extend, and Re-Direct Schema

Transporting. If you have a child who continually picks things up and carries them from place to place, here are some activities they may enjoy: Easter egg hunts or other gather-things-in-a-basket games; play in the bath with floating toys and a boat or basket to load them into; let them help with putting clothes into the washer and taking them out of the dryer; or helping to clear the table after a meal. Ask them to deliver items around the house (e.g. please put this cup next to the sink). Provide plenty of baskets, bags, boxes, and wagons to move things around in. It may help to put the majority of your small toys away while a child is in this phase so they have fewer total items to clutter the house with.

Transforming. If your child mixes all their food together, and mixes paints together, and likes to get things wet to see how they change, here are some positive ways to play with transformation: containers of colored water they can mix, fingerpaints they can smear together, a container with baking soda in it and eye-droppers with vinegar they can drip in and create “fizz”. Let them help you with cooking – mixing up muffins and seeing how they transform when cooked. It may help to find ways to minimize mess – for example, instead of giving them four containers of fresh paint, you could put four dabs of paint onto a “palette” or dish of some sort where they can mix to their heart’s content without “ruining” the full containers of paint.

Trajectory. If your child throws things, kicks balls, and drops things all the time, she is exploring trajectories – how things move through the air. She’ll probably love: paper airplanes, watching you play tennis or badminton (and fetching back errant balls), blowing feathers or scarves through the air, shooting baskets (tossing crumpled paper balls into the trash can), flying kites, chasing bubbles, bowling, splash painting (go outside with a bucket of water and a paintbrush – she dips the paintbrush in the water and swings it hard so the water splashes onto a wall or fence). If you know a friendly dog who likes to fetch, it may be a match made in heaven. (Although be aware of pet safety issues.)  It may help to put away many of your breakable valuables while your child is in this phase, and/or to provide him with only soft whiffle balls to throw.

Rotation. If your child loves cars, trains, and anything with wheels, and also loves to spin around, they enjoy rotation. He may like: unscrewing lids from empty water bottles, playing with a kaleidoscope, riding on a merry-go-round, spinning in an office chair, playing with water wheels, spinning things dry in a salad spinner, whisking scrambled eggs, playing with hula hoops, and drawing circles. These children may like playing with volume knobs or other knobs, so think about whether there’s anything you need to childproof. They also may like taking lids off containers, they may even figure out “child-proof” containers, so make sure medicines and chemicals are out of reach.

Enclosure and Enveloping. Does your child love to hide under blankets, bury toys in the sandbox, and put things in boxes? Those are enclosure skills. Build forts together, save large boxes for them to hide in and to pack things in, set up tunnels, set up a tent to sleep inside, play with a parachute, give her a shovel and take her to the beach or a sandbox to bury things, save small boxes to hide things in. Play lots of peek-a-book or hide and seek. These children often hide objects, so be careful not to leave essential items (like car keys!) in their reach.

Connecting. Some children love to build puzzles, assemble legos, and tape things together. Here are some ideas for things they can connect: tape together items from the recycle bin, make paper chains, punch holes in something and let them lace a ribbon through it, loop weaving looms, paper trains, construction toys of all sorts, dress-up clothes with buttons, zippers, snaps, and more. If you have a connector, be prepared to spend time untangling, untying, and prying apart! You may find it best to keep string, tape, and glue out of sight and out of mind.

Disconnecting. Other children go through a phase of destroying things: knocking down block towers, scattering Legos, tearing apart books. Give them a bin full of paper they’re allowed to tear apart, try to re-frame your way of playing with blocks – know that it’s all about building something that they will enjoy knocking down, teach them how to use the dustbuster to clean up their messes, put them inside a big box with some styrofoam sheets to break up (the box contains the mess). Now is a good time to put away toys with lots of small parts (e.g. train set or the collection of toy food) for a while, because all they’ll do is scatter them.

Position. Some children really like order: lining things up just so, and believing that everything has a proper place. They love “sets” of things that have a certain order they can be arranged in: alphabet blocks, number magnets, planets, and pictures of shapes with three sides, four sides, etc. They like peg boards, and stacking cups, and shape sorters. Putting things in order often calms them, but having someone mess up their order can be very upsetting, so help them learn to manage those upsets.

Orientation. Some children love to look at the world from a variety of perspectives: hanging upside down, turning their heads sideways, or climbing high to get a better look. Spend lots of time at the playground, or in gymnastics / tumbling classes. Give them binoculars and telescopes or even just cut a hole in a box for them to look through, give them an unbreakable hand mirror for exploring reflections. They will often climb on things not meant to be climbed on, but rather than just saying “no”, say “I can’t let you climb on that, but you can climb on this” or “there’s nothing safe for climbing here, but later today we’ll go to the playground and climb.”

If your child is currently “obsessed” with some schema, it can get tiring and frustrating to deal with, but remember that they are growing their brain, and organizing their ways of thinking about the world as they explore this schema again and again.

Sources for more information:

Schemas in Areas of Play  – suggests several types of activities a child might enjoy while working on a particular schema, also addresses problems a schema might create for parents and caregivers

What is a schema – includes descriptions of the schema, and then for each one offers activities to support that schema and key words to keep in mind while planning activities for kids working on that schema.

Schemas – How to understand and extend children’s behavior. Includes examples of types of activities a child prefers based on schema and how to help an activity (e.g. cooking) appeal to kids depending on whether their focus is on connection, rotation, etc.

Also, click on those three links in the first section of this post on “What is a schematic behavior” to learn more about brain development and play-based learning.

Resource for parent educators:

I have made up a set of printable postcards describing these schema that you could hang about a children’s play area for parents to read while their children play.

photo credit: Megan Hemphill (Prairie & Co) via photopin cc