Preschool Inspirations

The world is their playground!


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Managing the Mountain of Mess AKA Toys

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I am currently watching an episode of “Hoarders: Buried Alive.” What a crazy show — I want to watch it, yet it makes me crazy all at the same time. I have so much sympathy for these people as I see the power of their possessions take over their minds and lives, as well as the well-being of their family members. It’s amazing how something as simple as a mess can turn into an overwhelming mountain. As a mom I have certainly had my periods of being overwhelmed with keeping a clean house. Through trail and error and a lot of practice, I have finally found a happy medium to keeping the toys at bay.

I want to share my best tips with you, but it’s not all about mom or dad keeping up with the messes. This is a team effort, so I am also going to provide some advice on helping children develop healthy cleaning and organizing habits, whether they are an infant or four years old. So if you are looking to get a good system in place to clean up playrooms and bedrooms, you have come to the right place!

1. Everything needs a home

Probably the most important piece of advice I can offer is that every item, toy, stuffed animal, necklace, barrette, pair of shoes, puzzle, etc. needs a home. A “home” can manifest itself as a shelf, a basket, an organizer, a small box, a decorative bucket, etc. Whatever it is, it needs a specific place to go. The key to this is to make it look orderly and provide easy accessibility to your child.  Arrange toys neatly in a toy organizer and categorize them. One bucket is for puzzles, another for blocks, another for figurines, etc. Books should be spread out and neatly on display. There have been some amazing ways to accomplish this with bookshelf rain gutters, spice racks, or even child sized book shelves. The purpose in having a home for toys is to be able to teach your child to take care of their possessions. When different items go into different bins, they are learning to sort their items. When toys are neatly on a shelf, this encourages children to neatly return them. This also involves parents, adults, or older siblings modeling this behavior for them until they get the hang of it.

2. Avoid Catch-alls

When you choose a home for your child’s items, avoid big containers! So those giant toy boxes are the first to re-purpose. Since they can hold a lot, they become a deep toy abyss. It’s the quickest way for toys to get broken, to lose small and medium sized pieces, and to create an environment that encourages chaos. My biggest containers are used for stuffed animals. My rule is that once the stuffed animals start spilling over, it’s time to find new homes for them.  Otherwise, use those nice comfy ottomans for items such as blankets and pillows…not toys!

3. Bedrooms are for sleeping

This has been my most favorite organizational tip, and I learned it from a great family in Arkansas.  My children’s bedrooms are a haven for sleeping, and it works well… I mean REALLY well!  I love that this is dual purpose — it keeps my children’s rooms cleaner, and it has helped them become amazing sleepers at the same time. Toys are not allowed in the bedrooms, unless it is because I am storing them in the closet temporarily (and it is out of sight and reach of my preschoolers). We have stuffed animals and books in their bedrooms, and that is it. We don’t deal with a 2 a.m. play time or fighting to take away toys at night. Instead, we keep almost all the toys/learning activities in our own playroom. While it may be a sacrifice to designate a room for playing, I for one will admit that it has been well worth it!

4. Rotating the excitement

I’m pretty sure that most of us have a huge assortment of items for our children, especially if you live in a 1st world country. Even if we have everything nicely on display for our children, it could be easily overwhelming just because of the quantity. My solution to this is to rotate the items that my children have access to. In my playroom/classroom, each area of the room is set up as a different learning center. I have a block area, library area, kitchen area (home living as we call it in the preschool world), puzzles and manipulatives area (legos and other small items that you assemble), art area, math and science area, etc. Each of these centers has learning activities that I rotate on a regular basis. So if the item is not in the rotation that month, it is put neatly on one of my storage shelves in a “home.” I try to alternate which centers I am rotating the toys in so that it’s not all at once. It’s so exciting to children when you pull out a toy they haven’t seen in three months! I also put toys away once they are no longer carefully taken care of. I will ask my children to put away the toy first. If that fails, I will give them the option to clean it up or if I do it, we won’t be playing with it for a few months because I’ll be putting it on the shelf. Otherwise, I try to rotate when my kids are napping or sleeping so that they don’t even miss the items that are temporarily being re homed. I certainly keep some items out year round, but the majority are part of the rotation.

5. Everyone has a job

Whether you have an infant or a four year old, everyone can do their part to keep cleaning running smoothly. In fact, I recommend starting organizing techniques when your child is under a year old. This would mostly take place with sorting activities. Help your older infant learn to group objects by color or size. Also, when it’s time for clean up, have your child put away the toys while you hold the container and coach her to put away her toys.  Make it fun and enjoyable. As your child gets older, have him take his dishes to the sink and help clean up spills that occur. When your child is about three years old (if not sooner), he will be able to put toys away in the proper home and even help out with bigger tasks around the house. My two year old loves putting silverware away. I make sure to put all the knives and sharp objects away first, and he organizes all the rest. He loves sorting the “big forks” in the “big fork” slot, and I am able to talk him through any objects he is unsure of. My four year old loves sweeping with a child sized broom, making her bed, setting the table, and helping cook. This required effort and patience on my part while I was teaching my children how to learn these great life skills, but my husband and I have been intentional about making these processes and enjoyable, instead of tedious and frustrating tasks. Always be sure to carefully supervise activities such as cooking, sharp utensils,  and anything else with the label “keep out of reach of children.”

6. Less is more

There is such incredible truth to this! There are so many products out there for children, and it is so easy to quickly build a huge collection of items. As a teacher I am so guilty of this! I think of all the great learning opportunities a certain object could provide and justify purchasing more and more. Well, it gets buried, or I don’t get to it right away, and it just sits around. There are bazillions of great (and not so great) products available for children, and we as parents have to take the lead and be selective about what we purchase or acquire. Focus on quality, not quantity! It is much better to have 10 appreciated and well cared for toys than 100 neglected toys.

7. Purge frequently

I have become a huge fan of receiving calls from local non profits who ask if I have any donations they can come and pick up. I almost always say yes; even if I can’t think of what I have, I make myself find something. And honestly, it’s pretty easy to find something, especially for us since we haven’t moved recently. I recommend a purging process monthly. Once your kiddos grow out of a certain toy, pass it along! Whether you donate it, give it to a friend, or sell it, find it a new home. For a while I felt that clothes were overtaking my home. I was saving my kids clothes for the next baby. Well, I finally decided that wasn’t the best use of our space and resources. Who knows what gender the baby will be, what season they will be born in, how quickly or slowly they will grow into the next size, not to mention the yellowing that happens to baby and toddler clothes. I have released about 80% to 90% of those clothes, and now I just have the ones that are extra special. One day I will have to part with those too, but I will be ready for that because I practice giving items away now on a regular basis. There has been so much freedom that I have felt in just downsizing!

8. Take hope

While the process of cleaning and organizing can be overwhelming, grasp onto the tunnel of hope! So many times I feel that I have gone two steps backward and only one step forward, but that is progress. It makes it hard to keep up momentum, but it is worth it! I am a micromanager when I clean so the process becomes so tedious and long. However, it makes it so much easier to keep clean once I find a great organizational process. I used to dread cleaning, but as I operate an in home preschool, there was no way I could get around having a messy home if I wanted to keep clients. Since my home is our home and my business, it requires about 30-40 hours a week of cleaning. In order to keep my sanity and my joy, I had to find some redeeming quality in it other than the end result. I started listening to my favorite music while I cleaned from 9-11 p.m. each night. This definitely was not what I had in mind for what I “wanted” to do, but it has been such a blessing for us that I made it a priority.

What are some of your best tips? Feel free to comment below!

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Rachel Coleman is my hero!

I fell in love with the “Signing Time” co-creator, Rachel Coleman, while watching her on Nick Jr. a few years back. I just admired how she related to my children through the TV, and I loved how I wanted to have her as my guest speaker for circle time! What raw talent and passion. From my teacher standpoint, I knew that her methods of teaching children were very effective, and she did it through song and signing. Rachel Coleman and the rest of her team at Two Little Hands are absolutely amazing, and I feel that they are strides ahead of any other children’s TV program.

In fact, they are so far ahead that their new and very exciting production, “Rachel and the TreeSchoolers” has been deemed  “too educational for TV.” Wow, I am even more glad I cancelled my cable over a year ago. What a disgrace to our children! I for one am supporting Two Little Hands and their awesome endeavor to make learning fun for our little ones. I hope you will take a look at this video and consider being a part of this awesome opportunity!


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DIY Sea Stars

      DIY Sea Stars

I love how beautiful and unique sea stars are! However, there are none close to me (besides the ones I brought back from beaches). I decided to do an experiment with my preschool class to see if we could make our own sea stars. My main goals for this was to create a realistic structure that can withhold the abuse of preschooler. I am thrilled to share that they fit the build! These have been dropped several times on the floor and still survived. Here’s how we did it.

Materials:

Sea star ice cube tray  from IKEA

Pastina pasta (they are tiny stars)

Plaster of Paris

Optional items — colored sand or liquid watercolor

Instructions:

First we decorated the inside of the sea star tray. I let the class decide between colored sand, pastina, or both. Once the decorations were pressed into the bottom of the sea star mold, we were ready to make our plaster. We mixed the plaster of paris (2 parts powder to 1 part water) and added liquid watercolor to some. It took quite a bit to even slightly change the color. We quickly poured it into our mold and waited about an hour…and voila! I am so thrilled with how well these turned out and how unique each one is. The pastina fell out of one, but I think it only made it look even more realistic. If IKEA was not an hour away, I would probably be stalking their ice cube tray selection to make more!

This project has been featured at:

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Touring a Center Based Preschool — 8 Questions Parents Should Ask

Once you narrow down your choices for a preschool, this means it is time to take a tour. When I say a center based preschool, I am referring to preschool programs in child care centers, churches, and any other preschool that is not inside of a home. To find out tips on how to choose a preschool to tour, see my post on how to choose a preschool program.

After you have made a list of preschool programs you are interested in, it’s time to call and set up a time to see how the program appeals to you in person. There are typically Directors and Assistant Directors who handle administrative operations, and most likely you will be talking with one of them. In many centers they are the ones who will be showing you around as well.  It’s good to get to know them during the visit since it is important to have approachable and friendly Directors just in case you may need to bring up any questions or concerns with them in the future.

A tour should be a glimpse of what it is like inside of a day at preschool. Take a mental note of aspects such as the interactions between the teachers and children. Are they engaging with them and smiling, or are they exhibiting a face that asks “When will this day be over?” When you look around the classroom, do you see pictures that are obviously child created which allow for art to be a true expression of the child. Is there enough space for the children to move about and play without bumping into one another? Are there learning activities that you could see your child engaged in? Does the class flow well, and do they seem to genuinely enjoy being there?

While your tour should be enlightening, it is not exactly how things run each day. Children have good days and not so good days. If you see a child misbehaving, focus mostly on how the teacher handles this. Is she or he enforcing the rules while showing respect at the same time? Perhaps you walked in on a tour where the class is perfectly listening and sitting on the edge of their seat for every word to come out of their teacher’s mouth. Great teachers have many moments like these, but there are times of the day that we wished that there were even more!

As a tour is also a chance for you to “interview” the program, I have come up with some aspects to help consider in the process. While I was an Assistant Director, I gave dozens upon dozens of tours, and these were what I found to be some of the most pertinent and important points to consider:

1. How long have the teachers been teaching? Some teachers are naturals from the get go, but it is always nice to know that the person teaching your child has a lot of experience in handling and teaching a large group.

2. Do the teachers have a child development related degree? Every state has different standards for preschool teachers, but many programs are trying to put teachers with degrees as the leads in their classrooms. I would recommend programs that require this.

3. What is the teacher to student ratio? Again, each state is different. My state has lower child to teacher ratios than the average, which means more one on one time and better interactions. Here’s what Colorado’s ratios look like:

2.5 year olds — 7 children to 1 teacher

3 year olds — 10 children to 1 teacher

4 year olds — 12 children to 1 teacher

It is also good to check about the classroom max capacity. The smaller the total class size, the better. While you can have 24 four year olds in a preschool classroom in Colorado, it does not mean that this is best practice. When you have lots of children in one classroom, this increases the chances of accidents/incidents, over stimulation, and behavioral problems.

4. What is their philosophy of how children learn? Early childhood experts agree that children learn best through play. A learning environment should not be stressful, forced, or frustrating. Instead, it should be engaging, fun, and at the level that the child is at. There should be a balance between teacher initiated activities and child led activities as well as a mix of large and small group activities. Children should feel welcome into this environment and guided with love and respect.

5. Is the program accredited? Accreditation is a great measure of quality for a preschool program. The process of accreditation is usually very costly and shows that the program is taking steps to provide a high quality environment. Some states have started implementing a rating system so that you can see how well they are in comparison to other programs, but this is a new development and it will take a while for more states to add this.

6. Is there a commitment? Some programs require that your child attend for the entire school year, and others only need a two week notice to end services.

7. Do children need to be toilet trained? Potty training is a process, and each child has a different time table as to what this looks like. Many programs realize that not every child has mastered this by three years old, but there are some that require your child to be fully potty trained.

8. What types of fees and discounts are involved? Most programs charge fees in addition to the weekly tuition. Some of the fees I have seen and heard of are registration fee, activity fee, enrollment fee, supply fee, and lunch fee. Find out how often they occur, and what the amounts are. There are also discounts offered by most preschools. This may apply if you have more than one child enrolled or if you are military. Also, check and see if the program offers a discount for days that your child is out due to a vacation or illness. These are typically known as vacation days and sick days.

A good tour should leave you with a feeling of confidence and excitement. It is very important that you feel that it is an environment that you can leave your child and have peace of mind. Not every program is a perfect fit for every family, so even if your friend loves it, you may not. I recommend visiting at least two preschools. Every program is so different, so it is best to find out which aspects are more important to you than others. If you have any other questions, please feel free to list them in the comments section below. I wish you the best of luck in this exciting process!


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My Own Pet Sea Creature

I love how sweet it is when little ones see an animal and ask if they can have it. Wouldn’t it be nice if we just saw something cute and could just easily pack it in our bags and take it home with us? This makes me think of the book “The Pigeon Wants a Puppy” by Mo Willems.  Ahhhh,  how wonderful it would be if this required no maintenance, cleaning, or feeding. To just look at it and smile and admire the cuteness.

Well,  here’s a fun alternative to finding a sea creature for a pet. I love sensory bottles, so I’ll jump at an opportunity to add animals that actually fit! These ones I believe were bought at Michael’s in an ocean animal kit. Only the whales, sharks, and walruses could fit through the water bottle, so I let each child choose which they wanted.

Then I added some blue liquid watercolor. The first few bottles had about 10 drops which turned out really dark, so I did about five drops with the rest. It’s all about preference really. I love the tiny water bottles. They are the perfect size for little hands, although any size would work!

Next we added “Make It Glitter” by Discount School Supply. I love their products, and this one is a winner for sure. It is technically designed to make paint glittery, but it was perfect for this. Traditional glitter can be substituted, although it tends to discolor the water. Another aspect that I love about the liquid glitter is the way that it flows in the sensory bottle…it’s just like a snow globe.

Next we added our sea creatures! We decided to jazz up their homes by adding beads, and sequins would be fun too. Then we added some Easter grass to represent seaweed. I wanted to use green, but I only had paper Easter grass that was green. Instead went with the clear, translucent kind. It still looked great and achieved it’s purpose. The seaweed looked especially cool in the darker sensory bottles. So there you have it, your own pet sea creature!DSC_0882  DSC_0883 DSC_0884 DSC_0887 DSC_0891DSC_0892

Here are some more sea creature sensory bottles that my class made last year. We just added water with blue glitter and sea creatures, and they have been a favorite as well!

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How to Choose a Preschool Program

When choosing a preschool, there may be many options to choose from. I want to help you navigate through this adventure, so that you can find a program that best fits your family. There are lots of factors to consider in this process, so I want you to bring you alongside my twelve years of teaching for a quick snapshot of which aspects will give you a head start on finding the right school.

The first aspect to consider is the hours that you are desiring. Preschool program hours vary immensely. Some are a couple of hours a day, others are half a day, many are full day, and in rare cases, they are 24/7. Plus there are some variations of all of those. Preschool programs may follow the school year schedule with your local school district and others are year round. Some families have flexibility as far as their schedule, which allows them to choose from nearly all of these options, whereas other parents may need full day preschool to accommodate their work schedule which will certainly prune down some of the choices from the get go.

The next aspect to consider when choosing a preschool is your budget. Preschool prices run the gamut across the U.S. I live in Colorado where preschool and child care tend to be on the higher side. Even though this is the case, there are still lots of options as far as tuition rates. Options that are more affordable are usually preschools that are non profit, in home preschools, or preschool programs in churches. The programs in the middle are preschools in many child care centers, district preschools, and programs inside of universities or colleges. On the high end are usually programs that are specialized preschools and corporate preschool programs.

I want to point out that you do not always get what you pay for. Yes, I will repeat that. Not all preschool programs can be judged by their price. Amazing teachers and administrators can be found in the affordable programs and as well as expensive programs. This is hopefully good news for many parents! The important aspect is to do your homework.

Next, you need to consider which type of program would be a good match for your child. Some children are easily overwhelmed and need to be in a smaller group size. Other children are very spirited and outgoing, and they may not conform well to programs that do not provide as much active play and social interactions. Perhaps your child is only okay with being away from you for about three to four hours, and after that, he or she starts to experience stress and may act out. You know your child best, so be sure to take these aspects into consideration.

Lastly, I want to point out that there is always the option of doing preschool at home. If you live in a small town with limited preschools around, having a homeschool preschool could be your best option. This is also a great route if your budget won’t allow for you to send your child/children to a program. Perhaps you just want to spend more time with your kids before they head off to elementary school. Whatever the reason is, a motivated parent can help provide a preschool learning environment with the amazing resources online, and lots of times, you can find fantastic free resources too.

I hope this helps give a starting point for any families wondering how to begin the process of finding a preschool. It might also be helpful to ask trusted friends which programs they recommend. When you find programs that “look good on paper,” take a tour and meet the Director and classroom teacher. I would recommend finding at least two options that you want to tour, and even more if time allows. I wish you and your family the best in finding a wonderful preschool program, and stay tuned to more information on how to help in the process.

If you have more specific questions, please feel free to list them in the comments section below!


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Getting Ready for Preschool…Part 2

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In this post I wrote about some ways to help your child prepare for preschool cognitively, and now I want to focus on the physical skills that young children will benefit from. Each child has completely different strengths, and these skills will come easily to some, while others will just need extra repetition to feel comfortable with it. There have been times as a teacher that I have handed a pair of scissors to a student and assumed that they had been practicing at home because of how well they were cutting, only to find out later that day that it was the first time the child had even used scissors. On the other hand, some children need lots of reminders and demonstrations about how to correctly grasp scissors, and they may not be able to actually begin cutting for a week or two after they have been introduced to scissors. Keep an open mind when helping your child, and you never know when they might just surprise you.

Health skills

One of the most important aspects to help your child with is proper hand washing. When your child begins preschool, they are exposed to many more germs. In order to help your child and the rest of your family from getting sick, you can teach them these hand washing techniques. Have your child turn on warm water, get a small amount of soap, and begin to lather.  Now comes the tricky part. It’s so easy for them to just rinse what they have lathered on their hands. Instead, have them sing a favorite song while lathering outside of the water stream for 20 seconds…feel free to turn the water off during this time to get them accustomed lathering thoroughly. One of my favorite hand washing songs is this (sing to the rhythm of Row, Row, Row your Boat): Wash, wash, wash your hands. Wash them so clean. Scrub the fronts, and scrubs the backs, and scrub them in between. Then repeat a few times. After your child has effectively lathered both hands and wrists, rinse, then dry. If possible, use a paper towel to turn off the water faucet.

Remind your child to wash his hands each time after using the bathroom.

Help your child learn to cough in his elbow.

Teach your child to blow her nose independently and to wash her hands afterward.

When toileting have your child use proper wiping techniques, and teach him to ask for help if he needs it.

Self help skills 

Help your child learn to dress himself, including shoes and coat.

Teach your child to clean up toys she is no longer playing with before taking more toys out.

Have your child drink out of a cup and use a fork and spoon at meals.                                                               DSC_0775

Arrange an area at home where some of your child’s toys, puzzles, books, etc. are accessible for her without an adult’s help, and create a specific and designated “home” (tub/bin/shelf) for each toy.

Fine motor skills

Have your child use a glue stick.

Introduce  your child to child safe scissors.

Encourage your child to practice buttoning her clothes and zipping zippers.

Give your child opportunities to use different writing tools such as markers, crayons, paint brushes, pens, and pencils.

Gross Motor Skills

Help your child learn how to put a coat on.

Play catch together and any other fun games that involve coordination skills.

Have obstacle courses that involve running, jumping, and balance activities.