Ask Teachers

Ask The Teachers – May 2015

Dear Teachers,

I wonder about my child when they act silly to get my attention – or follows others who do. I must admit they are so cute and funny when they do some things (which I know are not great to start with) that I laugh and I know that by laughing, I am perpetuating those same behaviors. Iʼve noticed this most at birthday parties where there are lots of adults but, admittedly, most of us are talking to each other rather than watching our children. Some ideas, please, of how to help them to develop better skills.

Some of their antics are just too cute!

Dear Cute,

Every family has a different behavior bar – aka expectations. When children come together in social situations, their learned sense of justice, internal beliefs, self-esteem and self-regulation are tested. Setting a consistently high behavior bar – and reinforcing the positive behavior that we ALL want to see repeated among all children in the family or classroom – leads to less competition for attention in your busy homes, better relationships between your children as they grow, and more harmonious classrooms in their future.

Teachers notice that parents tend to set the behavior bar quite high for first borns, confirming birth order studies: first borns are more goal-oriented as a result of a high behavior bar, along with a lot of parental interaction and consistency of rules. (Kevin Leman, The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are) The bar usually resets itself as the number of children and career involvement goes up while at the same time, the family’s energy level and available adult engagement time goes down. Previous family expectations/rules may become less consistently applied – or go unenforced altogether.

Within a family, this can make a first born child feel confused or angry. They may start to feel bad about what they see as unfair or preferential treatment of siblings and turn to negative behavior and self-talk to get the attention they need. Although we as teachers cannot explain it, we encourage the children to speak with their parents about their feelings.


“Iʼm bad. When I do the same thing as Brother, they tell me to stop.”

“When Sister sticks out her tongue, Dad laughs. When I do he says  Iʼm rude.”

Read through the behaviors and motivations below and imagine how your “follower” would be most likely to respond in a social situation such as a birthday party as you mentioned.

                          Behavior                                 Motivation for their Behavior


A   starts entertaining or begins to cry when things don’t go their way A  is used to being rewarded for being cute or gains control of a situation by reverting to inappropriate behavior that is not development, age, ability, or event appropriate.   It works.
B  immediately joins the behavior B   is like-minded with negative behavior as their main attention getter.  It works so they do it.
C stands back and looks in hopeless disbelief at the foolishness. C  is a good role model, frustrated by the Lack of adult attention their good choices get them.  Perhaps they have a sibling likeA or B in their home.
D tries to get the attention of others through positive behavior – which they feel they must report verbally – to get the positive attention they deserve. is tired of following the rules and getting no reinforcement.  They “report” how they followed the rules in hopes that they will be noticed and be positively rewarded – but may give up.
E keeps doing what they are doing, ignoring the incident. is behaving in a way that makes sense to them and is secure in knowing that they do not need another’s approval to make good decisions due to their well developed self-esteem.

Each child described above is wonderful, unique and smart. The difference in the behavior between A and E is most likely the consistency with which each child gets positive attention for desired behaviors and/or natural consequences for behaviors that are not appreciated over time. There is no quick fix. Just as behaviors are learned over time, so must new acceptable behaviors be learned over time to replace them.

Your observation is key about birthday party supervision: whoʼs watching the children? Many children know how to behave appropriately yet in a group situation, without an adult giving them the expected external cues to stop, they are either unwilling or unable to stop themselves. This is known as self-regulation. That is where child E is the clear behavior leader: they have the internal will and ability to control their behavior and make the right choice regardless of who is watching or what anyone else is doing. They choose to do the right thing. There are other children who are opportunists who do know, intellectually, how to behave appropriately yet when they see a moment to choose badly, they do it. This is their response either because they predict that no one will notice (based on past experience) or that there will be positive reward rather than negative consequence for their behavior.

To avoid some of these issues in a household or classroom, each child must follow the same rules and have the same responsibilities at the same age. In a classroom, for example, if we remind one child to put their lunch box away when it is found on the floor, we must remind others who leave theirs on the floor. It would be unfair to clean up after one child and not another. They would notice and wonder, whatʼs wrong with me? or I must be special because they did not make me put mine away like so-and-so.

Sometimes adults forget what their younger ones are capable of doing; they forget that when their first born was 2, they were expected to put on their own shoes, for example, as they do in our Caterpillar room. When the first born child is asked to put the shoes on the 2 year-old second born child, it is frustrating for the older child who knows perfectly well that the 2 year-old can and does put their own shoes on. This also delays the second childʼs progress in developing age/ability appropriate self-care skills and sense of personal responsibility. All children must be encouraged to speak up for themselves, think for themselves, choose for themselves, problem solve for themselves and control their bodies by themselves. Growth in self-reliance bolsters their confidence. As adults, we must tell children daily in both words and actions that we believe in their developing skills, understanding and decision making abilities and give them the chance to show them – no matter how much faster we could do it for them.  

One last thought: instead of using the word cute (which is a subjective judgment that others may not share) try to use strong, positive words to support their self esteem, character and forming identity which they can carry with them in the years to come instead. Words such as important, careful, helpful, courageous, thoughtful, kind, smart, caring, insightful, capable, hard working, diligent,  cautious, perceptive, honest, and imaginative. They will be the stronger for it.


Ask the Teachers April 2014 – Would love to put some art up at home

Dear Teachers,

My neighbor’s child goes to a preschool and is always bringing home cute art – craft items and coloring pages.  I think I know the answer to this but am asking anyway:  Why doesn’t my child bring home lots of art?

Would love to put some art up at home


Dear Art at Home,

First it will help to define some terms.  Art is freeform, full of interpretations and flows from a child’s creativity using the materials they choose with results linked to the child’s satisfaction.  Crafts are activities using prepared pieces with prescribed steps and a single desired outcome.  Which do you want your child to do at school?

I once worked in a preschool where there was parental pressure for the children to come home each day with a product (craft or worksheet) to show that learning had taken place.  At the outset I, too, was asked to cut out a myriad of pieces that the children put together within 3 minutes in a prescribed way resulting in 15 identical “works of art.”  There was nothing artful about them; merely a challenging time for my 4 year-old class to comply before returning to their play.  Within a year, the frustrated staff had evolved to provide developmentally appropriate hands-on activities that did not focus on an end product.   The children were happier enjoying the process of creating and became more able to talk about their work and what it meant to them rather than repeating the assembly steps.  The parents soon understood that learning was taking place despite the lack of identical daily products.

Early childhood programs following current research offer self-initiated and open-ended activities with an array of interesting materials for the children to use in their creative process.  The columns below show what we do – and do not do.


         Santa Fe Teachers Will:


      Santa Fe Teachers Will Not:

Demonstrate use of Materials

“Try going back and forth with the brush.

Make a sample to follow

“Make it look like this, please.”

Ask open-ended questions ideas

“What can you do with that paper?”

Give step by step instructions

“This part goes first then that one.”

Offer a choice

“Would you like to try painting now, Mabry?”

Require participation

“Mabry, it’s your turn now.  Come on.”

Stay nearby to encourage/extend their vision

What color do you need for that?”

Choose materials for a child

“All the pieces you need are in that pile.”

Reward effort

“You’ve worked a long time on that.

I can see how proud you are of your work.”

Ask them continue or alter their work

“Keep working.  You’re not done.  You still

Have pieces left.  I’ll help you finish it.”


Acknowledgment of their unique perspective

“That’s interesting.  Please tell me about it.”

Judge against the sample

“That looks perfect.  They match.  Good.”



I understand your feelings: it is nice to have something to hang on your refrigerator as your child paints, cuts or draws.   Their work is meaningful to them and it needs to be shared with their families.   For winter holidays and Mother’s and Father’s Day we try to provide a keepsake picture or item to take home for gift giving.  We also keep some of their work as documentation of their progress in an individual portfolio.  You may ask to see it at any time and some teachers share it with families during scheduled conference times.  We also understand that sometimes children prefer to take something home rather than display it.

Oddly enough, we have had the opposite problem, too: parents throwing out “free” art in the classroom, in front of their child.  This deflates and devalues a child’s budding skills and artistic abilities when they see it go unappreciated by their families.  Each sliver of paper and stroke of the paintbrush has a story – and it is our job to encourage them to tell it.




Ask the Teachers February 2014 – Pleased with a Growing Staff

Dear Teachers,

I have read the minutes from the Parent/Staff meeting and appreciate that Santa Fe has made an effort to increase the educational level of its staff. I feel you are more engaged with my child as a result and I appreciate that you see yourself as educators interested in continually growing – just as public school teachers are required to do. Please clarify the staff’s education and its impact on my child.
Pleased with a Growing Staff

Dear Pleased,


We feel that through knowledge we have the opportunity to make a long term difference in the lives of our children, whether through suggesting food items to prevent constipation or noticing developmental delays, addressing them with parents and helping to find appropriate services. We are forward-thinking child care specialists who must meet the needs of our well-educated families and their children with an eye to rapidly developing research, state requirements and long-term impact of our developmentally appropriate practices, known as DAP.

Starting at the top, we are fortunate to have a pediatric nurse as our director. Whenever there is a question of child health, we have Jane on call to triage each situation proactively. We have reassured many families and saved many hours of our parent’s productive work time by determining the severity of an illness or injury on site before calling families in non-emergency situations.

Within our classroom staff we have college students in Early Childhood Education, staff holding CDAs, AAs in Early Childhood Education, BAs in Early Childhood Education, BAs in P-3 (Preschool – 3rd) and K-5 (Kindergarten – 5th), BSs in Psychology and a certified CDA Professional Development Specialist. At the end of the first year of employment, we ask those planning a career with us, not holding a BA as above, to begin the CDA course, the nationally recognized entry level credential for child care staff. Two staff have chosen to begin the CDA self- paced coursework. We are well on our way to meeting the 2015 minimum educational requirement for all staff.

Staff is required by the state to have 10 – 20 hours of continuing education yearly, depending on the position held. The center provides 8 hours of on site training in March and staff is expected to find center-paid workshops or materials to make up the remainder of their required hours. Completing a CDA in a given year more than supports this requirement. For those attending workshops, it is exciting to see staff return to their center, apply what they have learned, and share it with those unable to attend or exchange information with those who attended different workshops.

In addition, some teachers actively look for new information based on the issues they face with their age groups. Current hot button issues in early childhood are brain development in the zero to three years through all 7 senses to assure optimal development of the core (for sitting in classroom settings later), reduction in the use of restrictive equipment for infants (bouncy seats, car seats, etc.) for motor development, nutritional foods, play, and the important developmental rewards of exposure to nature and regular outdoor exercise/play.

We appreciate the support of our families who see the correlation between teachers who are self-motivated in further developing their own level of skill and care to motivate and inspire your children to be lifelong learners in turn.



Ask the Teachers October 2013 – Busy Mom

Dear Teachers,

Sometimes at pick up time, my child does not want to come with me. Can you have them ready for me so we can go quickly without all the fuss?     Busy Mom



Dear Busy,

The short answer is, sure, we can pack them up physically. However, there are learning opportunities for both parent and child in forming a routine that aids in developing their emotional intelligence that is crucial as your child grows. We help to teach even our youngest children that the only behavior we can change is our own – whether it involves helping a baby in the Cuddler room learn to soothe themselves for nap, a Munchkin coping with toys being grabbed away or a preschooler who cannot understand why classmates leave them out of play when they often respond by hitting. The answer lies in understanding and respecting developmental needs and daily experiences from their viewpoint. The following ideas might help your child in responding positively at pick up time.
* Does your child know who is picking them up? Children like to know what they will be doing next. Behavior issues can occur when someone they were not expecting arrives.
* Does your child know when they will be picked up? If you tell them or us a specific time, please observe it or let us know it has changed.
* Is your child aware of any appointments, classes, or circumstances after they are picked up that could cause them worry?

The following ideas might help you as a parent if you want their cooperation.

* When you come into their classroom, what do you do?

A. Give them your full attention and excited smile?
B. Allow yourself enough time to make it a positive transition?
C. Finish your cell phone call as you greet them?
D. Talk at length with other parents or their teachers?


A. is a great greeting to get them running into your arms: make it worth their while to stop what they are doing. They have been waiting all day to see your smiling face, share their stories with you and get a hug, cuddle or kiss.

B. is another great strategy: shelve your own agenda and get down to hug them and engage them in conversation at their level while gathering their belongings. Yes, even if they are still cooing and youʼre having a one-sided conversation.
C. is troublesome: when you continue your call, you model inattention, sending the message that they are less important than your call. Your child may return that message by ignoring what you are asking them to do in a sort of power struggle.
D. is problematic: when you talk to other adults, the same inattention be true. Children can feel disrespected and undervalued – less important than the adult you are with. They are so looking forward to their time at home with you and are anxious to get started. Also, when you talk to teachers, they may become apprehensive – or imagine consequences for a daytime issue.
Life is busy for everyone – parents, children and staff. We all need to respect this amazing time in the lives of our children and enjoy this journey alongside them. For more information, you may enjoy the reading the classics Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and The Hurried Child by David Elkind.


Ask the Teachers September 2013 – Tired of Struggling

Dear Teachers,

My child confuses me. I never know if I will have a problem in the morning or evening during drop off or pick up. When I come early as a surprise, my child seems unwilling to go with me or expects my spouse. Some families never seem to have this problem. Any ideas?

– Tired of Struggling


Dear Struggling,

Although every family has had a difficult morning or evening, there are those for whom it looks simple. What seems easy is a well-crafted and established routine. What’s their secret? Ask them; they will gladly share their story. The common thread in successful transitions is a consistent routine with firm behavior expectations for arrival and departure – and the child is happily meeting them.

So how can you do that, too? If you awaken late, discover an illness, someone is traveling, etc. you could be headed for a challenging morning arrival without a routine to see you through. Your time together in the car is their transition time from home routine to school routine just as you will begin your mental transition to work after dropping them off. Talk about what might happen at school, the weather, and any final instructions, such as a change in the end of the day routine.

Example: “I packed cheese for lunch and look, I see your teacher’s car. Nanna’s going to pick you up today so I will meet you later at home.”

In general, the drop-off routine should be brief, satisfying to your child and center on direct interaction between you. Information for the teacher can be handwritten, emailed or phoned so that important information is not lost or forgotten. Your focus must center on your child’s activities to ready themselves for their day. ITC children have a limited ability to help with belongings while Pre-K children are mostly capable of removing their outerwear, hanging it up and stowing their lunch box. The sense of competence this gives your child (and the verbal reward they receive from you for accomplishing it) sets a positive tone for their day. After a quick hug, kiss, wave from the window or whatever your child likes or needs to feel good about the coming separation, they are ready begin their day.


Here are a few devices that have worked for families we’ve known. Make the trip to and from school positively interactive:

* Sing a song together in the car on the way to school (henceforth to be known in family folklore as “the school song” regardless of its original title)
* Tell each other things that you will do during the day to talk about later.
* Tell jokes or stories, play word games, rhyming games, notice signs, weather, etc.

Once at school:
* Suggest they eat breakfast, join a friend in the room or ask what they’ll do first.
* Decide on a set number of hugs, kisses, waves, secret handshakes, etc. before leaving.
* Leave at the end of the routine. Remain in control and know they’ll be fine.

The end of the day is equally important. Please keep in mind:
* You are both tired from a busy day that may have had its frustrations.
* Errands, classes, cooking, laundry, tomorrow’s meeting, etc. may be on your mind.
* Nothing else matters to them at this all important reunion time.
* Make a conscious effort to focus on them, their work, their words, and their feelings. It is important to find out from them how they spent their time at school.

You will have a cooperative child if they know they have the full attention of the one they love most at the end of each day.




Ask the Teachers – July 2013 Uneasy with Change

Dear Teachers,

My child will be moving rooms soon.  How can I help assure that my child’s transition can be as easy and happy for them as possible?

– Uneasy with Change


Dear Uneasy,

Thank you for your interest in helping us to achieve our goal – the best possible educational environment for every child in our care.  And also for understanding that you are a crucial element working with us for your child’s benefit.  We are one childcare center with two locations working in partnership with you to meet the nurturing and developmental needs of your child at different developmental stages in their lives.

Although you may be skeptical or wish your child could stay little or with a particular staff member or routine, the most important thing you can do is to embrace the upcoming move and become genuinely positive about the imminent changes in all of your interactions.  Since parents interpret the world to their child, the way in which you present this change greatly affects how they will see and respond to it.  If you embrace the changes, so will your child; if you seem worried or unsure, they will reflect the same feelings in their own way.


Rather than wonder or worry about the unknown, here are some things you can do to help make the process of transition to a new classroom and forming new partnerships with the teaching staff more rewarding:

*  See the move as an adventure that your family will take together.

*  Visit your child’s new room.  Notice where items are kept to help in areas such as drop off, pick up and future conversations with your child about their day.

*  Talk with your child’s new teachers.  Ask questions and offer them your support.  They are looking forward to the opportunity to work with you and your child.

*  Talk excitedly with your child about the change – tangible evidence that they are growing up and require a more developmentally appropriate environment to keep pace with their growth.

*  Develop drop off/pick up routines that are satisfying, predictable and brief.

*  Read all transitional information provided by the center about their new room.

*  Provide up-to-date contact information and a “call first” designate.

*  Provide your child with all necessary items to participate successfully in their day:  diapers/underwear, extra clothing, nap needs, special room needs, lunch/snack/water, etc.

*   Model patience during this time to lower the stress level for both yourself and your child  which help to create the positive room environment your child will enjoy.

*  Hold realistic time goals for adjustment, acceptance and new relationships to develop between your family and your child’s new caregivers.

*  Seek out your child’s lead teacher first if you have questions about your child’s care in their new setting.  They know your child and room routines best.


Change is part of life and children are amazingly resilient.  Successful adults are most often those who have learned how to react well to change by showing flexibility and problem solving ability as they react positively to new situations and challenges along the way.  Each transition is truly an exciting time of personal growth for our children, families and staff and we can all look forward to the upcoming classroom transitions.




Ask the Teachers-June 2013 Needs More Than Mother Goose

Dear Teachers,

I notice that you use nursery rhymes listed as a separate component in your curriculum. I can understand it for babies; however, I thought my child was getting too old for them and should be working on things that will better prepare them for school. Why are they included?

– Needs More Than Mother Goose

Dear Mother,

Nursery rhymes are classic and they have become classic because they fulfill a need in young children. If you repeat them to your child over (and over) cuddling together as part of your bedtime routine, you will create warm memories for your child and perhaps revisit similar memories from your own childhood as well.

In addition, nursery rhymes are a wonderful introduction to important prereading skills including: identifying characters; predicting what happens next; recognizing the cadence in the poetry; memorization of text; expansion of vocabulary; alliteration (We Willie Winkie); and as an introduction to rhyming (where letters that sound alike have the same ending pattern such as house/mouse) and riming (where words sound alike but have a different ending pattern such as fair/care.) There are entire thematic units lasting anywhere from a month to a full year built around nursery rhymes used in early childhood education, which includes the years birth to Grade 3. By beginning with recognizable literature, early elementary children can often learn more easily and can gain a sense of competence.

The theme for this yearʼs summer curriculum is Fairy Tales, Nursery Rhymes and Fables from Around the World. Each classroom will be delving more deeply into nursery rhymes with developmentally appropriate activities to make them come alive in such ways as: drama, tasting curds and whey, having a plum on their thumb, building with sticks, art, puppetry, sitting on a tuffet, clapping along to the rhythm the horses, pigs or goats might make, etc.

A list of common nursery rhymes, whether sung or spoken, used in early childhood classrooms and the rhyming/riming words found within them are found below. By recognizing and using these words and word families, children become more aware of the phonics (individual sounds of letters), letter chunks (prefixes and suffixes), and word families (rhyming) found in the English language. It appears that Simple Simon is not so simple after all.

Word Families Found in Nursery Rhymes Continue reading


Ask the Teachers May 2013 – Sick of Feeling Guilty

Dear Teachers,

My child seems to be sick more than other children in his class. Although I would prefer to stay home with him, I sometimes take him in when he is just a little sick and feel guilty. What can I do to keep my child healthy?

– Sick of Feeling Guilty


Dear Sick,

Your concern and guilt are understood. We’ve ALL been there.

One of the best ways to stem the spread of infection is to keep your child home when they are ill. This socially conscious yet tough call is one that your childʼs teachers and classmatesʼ families appreciate. Not only does staying home allow your child the chance to heal, it also limits their exposure to more germs when their resistance is weakened. When your child is truly ill, all they want is you in the soothing comfort of their own home.

Our first obligation is to ensure that your child and their classmates remain healthy and safe. Teachers perform a visual health check of each child upon their arrival. If your child looks or acts unusually tired or uncharacteristically out of sorts, it is immediately noted. Often children know they are ill but lack the verbal skills to express their feelings or symptoms. Older children openly share sleep/health problems and medicines taken with teachers. Young children usually get more colds because of their developing immune systems and exposure to germs on a daily basis through friends. To support good health at the centers, each childʼs nap items are kept separated, toys are regularly machine washed or sanitized, and tissue use and disposal is supervised. Hand washing with soap and water is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of germs and is uniformly enforced in our rooms. When an ill child is identified through fever, for example, they are isolated until the parent arrives to limit the spread of infection to classmates. The child may return to school twenty- four hours after their temperature has returned to normal.

At home, you are hopefully taking the same precautions along with determining the amount of sleep, stress level, and nutrients/supplements in your childʼs diet which together all help to fight off illness. For those families with chemically sensitive or asthmatic children, a complete ban on chemical and environmental triggers such as scents, cleaners, hairspray and exposure to second hand smoke is necessary.

Occasionally, you will need to find other arrangements for your sick child on short notice. Your family should discuss this inevitability in advance and have a plan in place. Something as simple as parents alternating days off to care for their sick child works for some. Perhaps one parent has more flexible hours or the potential of working from home. Relatives are an obvious alternative for those lucky enough to have them nearby. Medical professionals may keep a list of sick-child providers for which you register in advance of use. Companies may provide sick child care as an employee benefit. If you belong to a social or religious organization, there may be families who would trade services: a stay-at- home mom may care for your sick child for a day in exchange for an evening out for them.


Ask the Teachers April 2013 – Bedtime

Dear Teachers,

Our child rarely falls asleep at her bedtime, in her own bed or stays in her bed all night. The easiest thing is to let her come into our bed – but then nobody gets any sleep. How can we help her to accept her bedtime and all it entails? This seems to be a problem mostly during and after weekends. Weʼre exhausted when the work week starts and we know our child must be, too.

– Sleepless at Santa Fe

Dear Sleepless,

Sleep – both quality and quantity – is crucial for you and your child. You seem to have a good lead as to the cause. The timing you mentioned suggests that the weekend schedule variation from the weekday bedtime routine is the key. For the next few weeks, track your childʼs nightly activities as you get her ready for bed. Does it happen when friends are over? When she doesn’t have a bath? When youʼre too rushed for a bedtime story? Are feelings from recent behavior issues still bothering you or your child? Is one or the other parent traveling or not home when the child goes to bed? Hopefully, you will see a pattern or a trigger. If not, you need to keep looking.

In the meantime, your child needs to be know that you sleep in your room and she sleeps in hers. You have a bedtime and she does, too. Choose a realistic daily bedtime then put a digital clock in her room where she can see it. Children as young as two are able to see the number “8” and know what happens next. Establish a pattern of bath, story, song, tuck in, light off, door closed, etc. This sequence should begin without fail at the same time every night. Once she makes the connection of the visual number “8” with what happens next, change is imminent. No, change wonʼt happen overnight. Yes, it is likely to be loud, emotionally draining, and perhaps as exhausting as what you are already experiencing. Perhaps it will involve several nights taking turns sleeping outside her door while she gets used to the fact that she will spend the entire night there.

So why bother? You said it yourself, the easiest thing is to let her stay up late and climb into bed with you. Here are the real issues: What is best for your child and your family in the long run? How long can you, your spouse and your child live happy and productive lives with sleep arrangements as they are now? When (not if) will you teach your child that bedtime is a regularly scheduled part of their day which is not within their control?

Choices are wonderful when appropriate while limits are a parentsʼ best tools to ensure their childʼs health and safety. Children need to learn that a tantrum has no power over their parentʼs decision making. Positive reinforcement for good behavior choices they make all day long shows the child where their real power lies. Children thrive when they accept parental limits, such as bedtime, that are clearly and consistently enforced by both parents on a daily basis under all conditions.


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