Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Gap

There's a gap in early childhood that we work diligently to close.  Children who come to us from lower income homes are often at a disadvantage and programs like Head Start and Early Head Start strive to ensure that those children are offered a high quality preschool experience in an effort to close that gap.

But like any gap, there are children falling through the cracks.  The system, at times, seems designed not only to keep families from succeeding but to keep them at the status quo, at least until their youngest enter the public school system and are being educated for 8 hours of the day at no cost.  It's heartbreaking as a child care provider to see families working hard to be successful and attempt to break through what can really only be described as a glass ceiling...

Here's a quick example for ya --
I work with some amazing parents.  This particular family has 2 children and they are a family of 4.  They qualify for child care assistance and Early Head Start.  While their co-payment is manageable, it's still pretty high. This mother works hard and was recently offered a promotion.  Sadly, instead of quickly saying yes, she had to deliberate as to whether she could afford it.  What?  Afford a promotion you ask?  Indeed, because if she accepts the promotion, her child care co-payment will go up and she won't be able to afford the new cost child care & would likely, in the end, have to resign or reduce her hours to stay home with the girls.

The cost of child care isn't going down.  Sadly, many children will be forced out of the high-quality programs and into private programming (where there are no standards of quality unless they are aware of and actively involved in early childhood organizations) or staying at home with grandmas and grandpas.  Not to say there aren't great home providers, though they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. I'm left wondering and worrying about the children who may no longer qualify for child care and are left in the gap.

How do we reach into the gap and ensure that ALL children have a high quality preschool experience so they are ready for kindergarten?  With all of this focus on "school readiness," we need to ensure that our tiny humans in the gap aren't forgotten.  But how?  And who will support this mission?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Watching Children Age

In my line of work, I have the privilege of watching many young infants grow and change and eventually move on from our center.  It's hard when they leave and we think back on our time together and how we've essentially been a part of that child's family from the beginning.  That's our baby too!

Then today I started to think about my life as a teacher, when I would work with preschoolers and then send them on their way to kindergarten (big kid school).  Occasionally, some of those littles return and enjoy making me feel older than old as they share their stories from third grade.  Ummm, didn't you just learn to write your name?  And here you are, looking all grown up, no baby fat....... where did my baby go?!

Truth:  I am not a parent and have not yet had to go through this with a child of my own flesh and blood but I have to imagine that going through it once or twice within your family is different than sending batches of children who are like your own off each year.

Which is worse?  Watching your baby grow a little each day or sending them away and having them knock at your door years later with stories of their big kid life?

Jury is still out on that one.

I am a teacher first, last, always!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Leading a team

Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just stand there.
-Will Rogers

I accepted the position of director because I wanted to guide the team through a difficult time as they transitioned from serving the spectrum of early childhood to focusing on infants, toddlers, and two's.  They emerged victorious.

Some times I wonder if this is really my calling.  And then I have this glorious moment with a teacher where I get to share my view on professional development and how much I want to improve the center environment as well as the people in it and we connect and I'm on top of the world.  And there's this less than glorious moment when someone approaches me, ever so cautiously, to hand me a letter of resignation.  

After a brief moment of taking it personally (seriously, who wouldn't want to work with me?), reality sets in.  Just like I wouldn't hold a teacher back from a promotion, I simply cannot be upset that someone wants to do what's best for them.  It takes a lot of self-reflection to know what you want next and perhaps I'm jealous that someone has had that "next" realization, but I am not upset.  Life is short.  We have to do what makes us happy, even if it means moving on.  I'm a huge believer in life-long learning and hope to somehow impart that on my colleagues.

I only want the best for the tiny humans we serve, within the agency and throughout the city, so that they might grow up to feel that same wonder of learning.

When we stop learning, we stop growing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


There is no such thing as a baby.
There is a baby and there is someone.
-D. Winnicott

I read a lot.  I've always been that kid, reading everything I could get my hands on.  I read the cereal box like it was the morning paper every day.  When my mom used the Tupperware containers, I started to bring reading materials to the table.  I have a mountain of books next to my bed as the bookshelves in our home are full.  In the years since my 2-hour leisurely breakfasts, I continue to read but my choices have shifted from Babysitters Club (OMG Stacey was my favorite) and Boxcar Children to professional development books.  But let's be serious for a moment, bookworms cannot live on non-fiction alone.  I love me some Jodi Picoult, Emily Giffin, and Jen Lancaster.  When you're reading the last chapters as slowly as possible because you're already mourning the end of the book, it's a sign you're perhaps a little too invested in the plot and characters.

I'm invested in the plot and characters at my center.  My teachers and I are writing a very significant chapter in the lives of the children and families we serve.  Each time we walk into the center, we are making (conscious or not) a decision to serve.  To inspire.  To teach.  We work with children but we are also supporting their families as well; it's an important connection when a parent realizes her son is a person, complete with feelings and emotions.

It's important to remember that children are people and just like adults, they each bring a unique array of previous experiences and preferences into the classroom.  That's the beauty of our work; we are teachers and learners in our interactions with children and families.  There's something new to be learned each day and not all of our learning comes from books.

What did you learn today?

People keep telling me I am so cute they could just eat me right up. Is it me or is that unsettlingly cannibalistic?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Don't stifle ... nudge!

I have a great team; probably one of the best in our agency (though at this point, I'm also kind of bias).  When a Lead Preschool Teacher position opened at one of our other sites, I didn't have to think twice about speaking with one of my Assistant Teachers about interviewing for the position.  My supervisor said, "Why don't you think about it over the weekend and let me know."  Weird, I thought.  Then she added, "I don't want to break apart what you've been building."

I wasn't going to need the weekend.  When there's a possibility that a teacher (any early childhood professional really) can grow, why wouldn't I want to share that rich experience with her?!  Because it means my coverage is going to get a bit wonky until I can hire a new team member?  I worry that people are being pigeon-holed in positions because their supervisors don't want to let them move forward because of comfort and desire to maintain the status quo.  I think it would be incredibly selfish and unprofessional of me to keep such an opportunity from someone who is ready & willing to step up to a challenge.

I've long believed that professional development and overall growth sometimes requires a gentle nudge; I'm not sure if this teacher would have sought out the position on her own and I'm not certain it wouldn't have been because she was worried about hurting feelings or rocking the boat.  That's not the message I want to send to my team.  If your goal is to be a Lead Preschool Teacher, I'd really like to help you find the resources you need to meet that goal.  We all need to grow.  Without a goal, there's little joy in teaching and early childhood is a field in which people burn out quickly because they have spirit and energy and it's under appreciated.

So let's celebrate those who have made the decision not only to stay in early childhood education, but also to move forward, to champion for the education of our youngest learners.

I'd like to think I'm growing the next generation of early childhood warriors.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

STEM: A reflection on intentional teaching

“Unless the schools of the U.S. find the tools to bring students up to the highest level of accomplishment, it places the nation at risk in the international economy of the 21st Century.”
—Bill Gates

As our agency begins to think about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focused programming in early childhood, I'm forced to reflect on my beliefs about developmentally appropriate practices as well as intentional teaching.  It's no big secret that as a nation, we are outperformed by 30 countries.  My great struggle with this is that STEM seems to have become a buzz-word.  A phrase that makes people immediately look at their classroom and create lists of more crap stuff they want to add to their environments.  Why?!  In a time when budgets are tight, I get that we want to appeal to funders and stand out in a sea of early childhood programs claiming to be the next big thing.

The big idea with STEM is thinking paths.  As early childhood professionals, we should be striving to help children sharpen their critical thinking skills and become divergent thinkers.  Why must there only be one way to solve a problem?  I know that I want my students to become problems solvers who can explain how they came to a solution rather than throw back terms and memorized responses.  We're supporting children's engagement and enthusiasm for learning so they can carry that enthusiasm into public schools (sigh) where it will likely be tested on an on-going basis.  In short, I want my students to be lifelong learners.

Children aren't going to find passion and love of learning in worksheets, I know that for a fact.  Worksheets do nothing more than suck the soul from children and perhaps bide the teacher a moment of quiet.  Imagine the in-depth learning that takes place when a child manipulates, investigates, and learns the way things around her work.  That kind of learning lasts a lifetime.  Worksheets last until the stupid smiley face (or sadly, frowny face) is stamped on and thrown away.  I'll save my rant on why art as a receipt for child care is the dumbest thing ever for another day.

In conclusion, focus must be directed less on the materials and more on the teaching necessary to develop children's passion for learning, particularly in the areas of STEM.   Before we order another piece of "stuff", I suggest we turn our focus to the teachers with whom parents leave their children and provide them with the tools, resources, support, and professional development they deserve when charged with such a precious task.

Surely I'm not alone in this belief...
How are you working with children or teachers to develop enthusiasm for learning and/or focusing on STEM?

Reading list ----


Related articles:
http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/beyond/seed/katz.html (LOVE LOVE LOVE this article)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Falling Apart

** Originally written July 10, 2012 **

Sometimes good things fall apart so greater things can fall together.
-Marilyn Monroe

Oh, if she only knew how tightly I would be holding on to those words when she said them... wow.  It's been an incredibly stressful summer for me as I prepare to make huge programmatic changes within our site.  I took on the role of Site Director because I fully realized the stress that not only the parents, but also the staff, would feel during this expected transition.  I recognized that they would need a familiar face to help them through this time.  I also recognized that my own personal connection to the site (I began my Chicago teaching career at this same location) would benefit me in working with the staff and families.

My emotional side will ultimately help me as it will show my humanity as well as my humility.  I am occasionally accused of being too emotional but I can't help but think that's not a bad thing.  It shows that I am a person too.  How I show my emotions is something you can picky about; I fully agree that there is a right and a wrong way to share/display your emotions, especially within a professional workplace... where you're the supervisor.  So let's agree on that and continue with this saga.


One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.
-E. M. Forster

Often, long stretches of time go by before I think to update this portion of my blogging life.  Until today I haven't really wondered much about it, just accepted it.  I know that I sometimes feel like I have nothing to share, nothing special to say and that keeps me from posting because no one likes a rambler.

But you know what?

If I'm rambling about something I'm passionate about, does it really matter?

I had a realization today that maybe I need to stop thinking about WHAT I want to be when I grow and more about WHO I want to be when I grow up.  After a lengthy conversation tonight with a parent about trends in early childhood education and my background of being from Wisconsin (Go, Pack, Go!), he ended by asking where I thought I might "end up."  It caught me a little off-guard.  I truly hope to never feel a sense of ending within my career as it would signify the end of my passion, the snuffing out of my flame.

My goal in life is really to be a warrior, an advocate, a role model for early childhood education, developmentally appropriate practices, and infant & toddler development.  As the Site Director of an infant/toddler center, I've come to realize just how little people know about the development of our youngest learners.  Today, we had a monitor from a funder auditing our files and when she heard an infant crying for more than 1 minute, she insisted that she go into that classroom to "help."  I totally just used air quotes there because her great contribution to the situation was this:  "Well doesn't she have a pacifier?"

I began to explain that today is Monday and it can be tough sometimes.  Her candid response was, "Well, babies shouldn't have Mondays."  Ma'am, unless you've somehow magically reworked the calendar and not shared this news with the world, all humans have Mondays.  Infants are human beings.  And after spending the weekend at home with those she loved and being no-doubt held and cuddled all weekend, one can assume that the first day back to the classroom environment (regardless of the day of the week) might be stressful.  Suddenly, there are other children with their needs being met before the teacher might be able to cuddle me.  My teachers are phenomenal at what they do and I have no doubt that this child was not in danger, not being neglected, likely not even being denied any form of verbal attention -- she simply wanted to be held.  She was overtired.  She had her diaper changed and was ready for sleep.  

I think one of my biggest pet peeves is when the grown people forget that those cute, cuddly, warm little beings in their world, in their vicinity, in their arms is in fact a human being with the full range of emotions and needs as an adult.  They simply don't have the words yet to share those needs and emotions.

But seriously, if you've indeed found a way to eradicate Monday, please send me a quick email... I'm all ears.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Day After Tomorrow

I'm not a big "politics" person.  I often get my news from Jon Stewart.  I already know who I am going to vote for in November.  I find myself at an interesting point in my personal and professional life.

Chicago is corrupt. The state of Illinois is in turmoil.  And those who stand to lose the most don't have the voice to fight back.

Our neediest of children stand to lose their only access to early childhood education & care.  The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is in jeopardy.  With an obvious $16.6 million cut proposed, the actual devastation comes in at nearly $85 million.

I have no children.  My husband & I have been trying for some time to add children to our family, but for the first time, I'm somewhat relieved that we haven't been successful.  Not because we're not ready, but because of how evident Illinois' (and the nation's) disregard for early education has become.  Let's forget that parents need the child care to be able to work to support their families.  I get it.  We all have to work, we have bills (and diapers are certainly not cheap).  Our children need us to speak up and advocate for their right to quality education.  Anyone can babysit.  We are paying teachers to teach children so that we can close that ridiculous gap that exists within our socioeconomic groupings.

True, I may selfishly be advocating because my own profession depends on having this funding.  We cannot pay our teachers without child care funding.

But how will we look our children in the eye when they're dropping out of high school because we failed them before they even walked through the doors of a Chicago Public School building?

Speak up.  Even if you're not from Illinois.  Why?

Because this is coming down the pike & is sure to find you and your children.  And if you're fortunate enough to shower your children with every thing they need for future success, say a special prayer of gratitude tonight.  Somewhere in your neighborhood, there is a family so consumed with today and living paycheck-to-paycheck that they can't begin to see tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I Better Learn Italian Quickly...

Because I'm going to Italy! 

Yes, after years of dreaming up schemes ways to get myself to Reggio Emilia, Italy, I have finally found success!  I recently applied with our agency to be a part of the Chicago-Reggio study group and as a result, I am headed to Italy at the end of March.  I am excited because this trip has many potentially amazing outcomes:

I get to go to Reggio Emilia.  That in and of itself is amazing enough for me.  I will be able to really explore and discover the methods used in Reggio to make their early childhood education so functional and engaging.  Listen, I practically cried the day they dismantled the Wonders of Learning exhibit here in Chicago and then wandered around like a lost soul for months (actually a year), looking for that same sense of inspiration and enlightenment.  It's hard to inspire others when you are looking to be inspired yourself!

It's amazing because I will be accompanied by a teacher from one of our sites.  This individual is someone I greatly admire and respect, as she has recently changed her focus from the upper side of the early childhood spectrum (third grade if I'm not mistaken) and has really become an outstanding preschool teacher.  Her openness to the concepts and principles of Reggio have made me feel  as though the site is ready for this kind of adventure into the study of Reggio.  I feel we are embarking on a magnificent journey and cannot wait to see how it unfolds over time.  This is exactly the spark we (I) needed.

I feel as though I'm tying myself into the fabric of our agency.  It's been almost four years that I've been at the same agency (a small miracle apparently) and I am passionate about changing the culture of the early childhood community in the city of Chicago and within our agency as well.  I'll tell ya, the day I first heard a teacher explain to a parent that her child was a "tiny human" with "feelings and experiences that he wants to share with us," I was beyond the proud mom moment.  When I saw the mom stop and realize out loud "Huh.  I guess I never really thought of him as having feelings..." I wanted to cry.  Not because she hadn't realized it before this moment, but because I saw her ah-ha moment.  I saw the way she looked at her son in a new light for the first time.  That moment made all of the other not so fabulous moments seem insignificant. 

Things are starting to shift and as long as I can maintain this momentum, I truly believe we can make the difference.  We can be the advocates for our youngest learners.  We can empower others to share the same message.  We can save childhood.

{Classroom Reorganization}

I taught preschool for four years.  Four amazing years.  Some days (like today), I find myself wishing I had stayed in the classroom; usually for various reasons:  Administration has a lot more responsibility and paperwork, I miss the kids, I miss the families, I miss the classroom.

Today I got the opportunity to rearrange one of our classrooms.  Seems there have been some behavior problems and before I move forward with anything, I really want to see how the environment change impacts the behaviors. I know that sometimes our classrooms are over-stimulating for children, so I went through and took out clutter and tried to group objects to make them easier to use and put away.

Here's a peek at what I accomplished today with my 2 hours in the classroom....



Dramatic Play:



Sand & Water / Discovery:





 What do you think?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Water Play Tools for Less than $1

I have been able to find (most of) these items at our local dollar store or other places like Goodwill for children to experiment or explore while visiting the water table in all of our classrooms for birth-age 5.  

Ms. DanL's Top 20 Water Play Manipulatives:

1.      Whisk
2.      Funnel
3.      Colander
4.      Spoons
5.      Small cups
6.      Tubes
7.      Corks
8.      Tongs
9.      Measuring cups
10.  Sponges
11.  Aquarium nets
12.  Measuring spoons
13.  Aquarium nets
14.  Eyedroppers
15.  Plastic squeeze bottles
16.  Water wheel
17.  Spray bottles
18.  Sea shells
19.  Pebbles
20.  Paint brushes

Where do you find materials for open-ended investigations at the water table?

What's your favorite material for use in the water table?

Friday, January 13, 2012

The PD Shakedown

The need for and benefit of professional development is often hard to bring to light when speaking with the "higher ups" in early childhood education. I attribute this to the fact that many of them are "done" with school and feel they have the tools needed to successfully do their jobs. While this may be the case, others of us out here are lifelong learners, reaching for every article published, gathering on Twitter to network and support, and registering for classes just to maintain that level of thrill. I admit, I finished grad school in 2010 and wondered almost immediately what I could do next.

If the professional development isn't required by a funder, it's incredibly difficult sometimes to explain the need to the admin but also to some teachers. It's usually because the next question is "Well, who's going to pay for this?" And I must admit, the reason I have not yet pursued my doctorate is largely because if I have to tell my husband that I'd like to incur more student loan debt, his head may explode. But there are opportunities out there for "people like me" who have the thirst for knowledge. Is cost really the limiting factor?

I've often brought up the idea of starting a book club, usually around the time my new NAEYC books arrive in the mail and I'm chomping at the bit to get started and share my learning. Ive yet to receive positive feedback on the notion. Actually, most people laugh when I suggest it. I'd really like to say it's just my group of people and that a new position will change everything... But I'm pretty certain that's not the case. If I've learned anything in the past four years I've been in this "culture" it's that every agency in the city has the same issues and drama, just different people.

So today I take my stand.

I refuse to stop growing and learning just because I have no one in my immediate work circle to push... I mean nudge and support me in my adventures. In fact, I believe this is my call to be the nudger. (Is that really a word? If not, it is now. Enjoy.)

What if we're all waiting for something amazing to happen to inspire our groups and in fact, we are that something amazing? Be the catalyst.

Inspire someone today.