The Power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

The Power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

By Jeanne Labana, WECA Training Coordinator and Master Trainer

IMG_1716Gina Flynn’s classroom at St Robert’s school is alive with activity!   Groups of children have gathered plastic eggs, play dough, measuring tools and Unifix cubes.  One group is rolling the eggs, discussing the way they roll with respect to their shape.  Another group is creating patterns and counting.   Yet another group is stacking the eggs, trying to get height, unsuccessfully. The stacking group spies the play dough and tape and think they might be good binding agents.  They find they need too much play dough to stack very high.  Switching to tape is more difficult and needs more hands but the eggs are now higher. Soon the other groups have also started stacking, formulating plans for how to structure the stack for the best results.  Amid the thoughtful sharing of ideas, attempts and giggles the groups begin to compare the height and width of their projects with the measuring tools.  Meaningful learning is happening, thanks to STEAM.

The STEAM approach captures a child’s natural curiosity and fosters higher-level thinking through planning, reasoning, hypothesizing, predicting, theorizing, etc. For young children this is a vital stage of development.  Research reveals that young children learn most successfully when they are the center of a learning experience that includes physical, linguistic, social-emotional, and knowledge-rich components. When children are active creators of their learning with adults as their guides or facilitators they become excited and engaged.

In teaching, Gina Flynn prioritizes STEAM. In the egg project alone, children are developing skills with counting, adding, subtracting, 3-D design, and physical manipulation of materials. They are also growing their capacities to problem-solve, imagine, listen, work together with others, and persist when faced with difficulty. They are growing their social-emotional skills.

This year, WECA’s Annual Conference features a learning track on STEAM. Save Friday, November 10 and Saturday November 11 – when Gina Flynn and other experts will be sharing theory and practice on STEAM. There will be hands-on examples of activities for you to use – whether you teach infants, toddlers, preschoolers, or kindergartners.   Come!  Let’s learn together! See you at the conference!

Finding Your “Center” in Your Center (or Family Child Care Home)

Finding Your “Center” in Your Center (or Family Child Care Home)

mandala-1875416_960_720by Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator

“I can keep going.” Have you ever used these words as your mantra during an especially long, chaotic, challenging or heartbreaking day with children? Here’s the truth: our jobs can be hard, and yet children and families count on us to be at our best… always! So we need strategies. Wishing our mantra to be true is one such strategy, and there are others. Here are two strategies that relieve stress by helping teachers “find their center”.

Zen Dens
Samantha Anderson and Rosemarie James are teacher-coaches at the Head Start of the Menominee Nation Early Childhood Program. Recently they participated in a training called Trauma Smart to help them help children who are dealing with strong feelings, especially those feelings that arise when children experience trauma. In the training, they were reminded of the importance of self-care as they watched a video by Soul Pancake Entitled “Zen Dens.” Back in their program, they wanted to create a similar area where teachers could re-center and capture the feeling that was embodied on the faces of everyone in the video as they left the Den.

Zen-Garden

Lisa Lyons, head start teacher taking  a zen den break.

Samantha has this to say: “Early childhood teachers often have to handle situations that have variables not controlled by themselves. Crying babies, children with special needs, daily pressures of a classroom… these can raise the stress level of our teachers. Teachers need a way to help release the stress and renew calm in themselves. Calm teachers create calm classrooms enabling a more productive atmosphere.” Together Samantha and Rosemarie created their own “Zen Den.” The teachers have given some very positive feedback about the space and what taking their break now means to them.

Watch the video on Zen Dens and then imagine what such a space might look like in your program, what fits your workspace and style, what sensory inputs would feel just right to help a teacher reclaim her “center” and feeling of well-being. If you want to learn more about Trauma Smart, in this video you will hear teachers talk about the importance of managing their own strong feelings in order to help the children.

Mindfulness Meditation
Emily Hagenmaier is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker whose work has largely focused on parents, helping them manage change and make the adjustments needed to raise children who thrive. Emily has also worked with and on behalf of caregivers. She recognizes that early childhood educators share with parents the very basic goal of supporting children’s social and emotional well-being each and every day. And like parents, we experience how stress can work against our best efforts.

Emily Hagenmaier
Emily Hagenmaier, LCSW, Ginko Tree Counseling, Madison

“Before you can attune to the child’s experience, you need to be attuned to yourself. Then you are able to be a model of compassion and self-regulation for our children. We can’t ask children to do what we can’t do ourselves. That means being in touch with our own feelings and not minimizing them. Have you ever said to a distressed child, “You’re OK” when really you were thinking, “I need you to be OK because I’m not OK with what you’re expressing”?

One strategy that Emily teaches is “mindfulness,” a practice which helps you focus your attention and awareness, and relate to yourself and the children in your care with less judgment and more kindness. She describes this as giving yourself permission to feel what is already there. In this way we take care of ourselves and we suffer less.

Emily offers the following – an audio recording of a mindfulness meditation – as a gift to all caregivers of young children. Allow yourself a few moments to listen, to breathe, and to feel. And then you’ll be better prepared to share your gifts with the children.

A Self-Care Plan
This article from Child Care Information Exchange may provide just what you need to intentionally create your own self-care plan, beginning with this quote by Lauren Quinn, teacher and author: “Take care of yourself.  Your students need you to do this.  Put on your oxygen mask first so your teaching can be a gift of yourself to your students.  They need your mind, body, and soul to be nurtured.  You can’t give to them what you don’t have.”

 

Getting out the door and loving Winter with kids

Getting out the door and loving Winter with kids

winter-1By Emily Sonnemann, family childcare provider 

“Snow pants first!” the children all shout as they excitedly run towards their cubbies and begin to toss six sets of coats, hats, mittens, boots and snow pants into a big heap. As the giant heap of gear begins to sort itself out I can hear them encouraging each other, gently reminding about the best order in which to put on their winter gear – snow pants first, next … boots or your coat, a hat and at last your mittens.  “Can you start my zipper?” the first one yells.  Yep!” I reply as I take boots off the youngest child’s hands and place snow pants out for her to try. There are lots of grunts, furrowed brows, concentrating faces, insistent cries of “Can you help me please?!” and “Never mind! I got it! I did it! Look! I got my zipper all by myself!” This can be a good 20- minute plus exercise in figuring things out, working through frustrations, practicing patience, helping and encouraging others and themselves. It is exhausting and it is invigorating. The process gets a little easier each time and here’s the good news: it always ends with success and the rewards of getting outside.  They are a determined, resilient and eager bunch! “Good job everybody!” I cheer as I scramble to get my own winter gear on before someone gets undressed. “Snow pants first!” they shout back at me. The smiles and joy and laughter and adventures that lay on the other side of the door – those are the reasons why we go outside in the winter!

Getting out the door really is the biggest obstacle to loving winter with kids.  Once you’re out the door on a snowy morning it’s like a giant playground made of chilly white play dough. The possibilities are endless and with six little imaginations, we have hours of entertainment at our fingertips no matter the conditions.  We like to build snow forts and snow people. winter2croppedWe go sledding on the neighborhood hill. We make frozen ice shapes with old bundt pans and ice globes by filling punching balloons. We paint snow with water and food coloring. We shovel the neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways. We keep the bird feeder full, follow animal footprints in the snow, look for evidence of the neighborhood beaver, monitor the changing seasons and the changing conditions of the Yahara River and Lake Monona. We make and eat snow ice cream. We use sticks to write letters and make designs in the snow. We ice skate at the local outdoor ice rink or any patch of ice we can find. We look for any crunchy ice to stomp on and for fluffy snowballs to toss. Every day is different and new! Learning and – most importantly – joy abounds in the great outdoors, even in winter. So, bundle yourself up, get outside with kids and find your own adventure! The possibilities are endless, fun is around every corner – just follow those little boot prints into the magical world of winter play!

Tips for Parents: 

  • winter-4croppedSee the whole process as worthwhile. Getting out in winter time can feel overwhelming. It’s cold, slippery, wet…  It’s often easier to find excuses rather than taking on the battle of dressing little ones. It’s a process worth taking the time to engage in. There are a number of skills that your child builds competence in just with the process of learning to get dressed for the weather.
  • Invest in warm winter gear, especially mittens that stay dry inside.  There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices.  Dress in layers.  Winter gear doesn’t have to be expensive; hand-me-downs abound since gear usually only fits for one season. Look for waterproof things and mittens with extra-long cuffs that can tuck into coat sleeves.  Don’t forget about yourself! Find winter gear for yourself so you don’t get cold before the kids are done playing!
  • Impart a love of nature and the great outdoors.  Speak positively about the possibilities and fun of winter.  Before you know it, even the most hesitant will be deep in the snow and smiling ear to ear.
  • Learn a winter sport together as a family! Try cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating or biking. It can be a lot of fun to learn something new together!
  • Check local parks, state parks and natural areas for winter events such as candle lit hikes and skiing or other winter programing. Offerings are typically family friendly, educational and loads of fun.

Emily is now in her fourth year of owning and running her family child care business.  She lives and plays with her husband and two children on Madison’s near East side.  

 

The Five Whys

The Five Whys

Stephanie Harrison

Stephanie Harrison, CEO, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. Executive Member Wisconsin Partners

In health care, we recognize the vital importance of early childhood education on long-term health and well-being. As we seek to eliminate health disparities and ensure that everyone in Wisconsin achieves their highest health potential, we must pay attention to brain development in our infants and toddlers if we are going to create long-lasting change in the health of the population.

One strategy is to include early childhood education in our quality improvement processes. For example, one of the tools we use is “The Five Whys” – a technique from the Six Sigma framework. When facing a systemic problem, asking “why” five different times assists in getting to the root cause.

Here’s an example of the technique:

1. Why is our county doing so poorly in the County Health Rankings?

Because a high percentage of people are living in poverty.

2. Why are a high percentage of people living in poverty?

Because the high school graduation rate is low and young people can’t access living-wage jobs that fit the education they have.

3. Why is the high school graduation rate low?

Because a significant number of students need remedial education services and struggle with  emotional and social difficulties that make completing school difficult.

4.Why do a significant number of students need remedial education and struggle with  emotional and social difficulties?

Because they did not get a firm foundation in these skills between infancy and age five  –  when their brains are undergoing the most significant development.

5. Why didn’t they get a firm foundation in these skills in their early education?

Because their families couldn’t afford high-quality early education.

The connection of health status to early childhood
The UW Population Health Institute  has shown that much of our health is actually about our behaviors and social and economic factors, like education and employment. As we ask why even more, we can trace things like poor health, smoking, substance abuse, graduation from high school, and employment back to the foundations for language, vocabulary, and socialization that are built in early childhood. In fact, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University notes that disparities start to show up around 18 months of age.  This is particularly evident in vocabulary. In response, many community health centers in Wisconsin participate in the Reach Out and Read program as a way of getting health care providers to urge parents to read regularly to their kids – thereby providing a more language-rich environment for their children.

If we are serious about making our state a healthier place, we need to pay more attention to the education that our children are receiving at home and at childcare centers in their earliest days and years.

By Stephanie Harrison, CEO, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. Executive Member Wisconsin Partners

Mary Claire Babula  June 5, 1950 – December 3, 2015

Mary Claire Babula June 5, 1950 – December 3, 2015

Mary Babula

Mary Claire Babula

The world of early learning in Wisconsin has lost a rare and fiery gem; Mary Babula, recently retired WECA Director of Membership, a dear colleague, friend and mentor has died.

Within two hours of her passing a local child care program came to our offices with a line of jacketed and mittened small souls to sing to us as they do a few times a year.  “ABCD, EFG…” it was only fitting that their little voices escorted Mary on her next journey.  Without knowing, their presence was cathartic.  Their bright smiles, their wide eyes taking everything in, their fidgeting little hands; they are why Mary did all that only Mary could do so very well in her own Mary Babula ways.  For Mary knew, deeply and completely, the work of nurturing, caring for and educating our youngest children to be the most important and worthiest of work.

Mary’s career in early childhood education began as a teacher/director at Christian Day Care Center in Madison in the 1970’s. Later she became the director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association which grew under her leadership. Mary was an advocate for children’s and teacher’s rights. She challenged law makers and modeled patience and understanding for all.

Mary was someone with many passionate commitments. She was active in music through Womonsong, international travel through Friendship Force, and issues of equity for women and families through the Wisconsin Womens Network. She loved traveling, camping and canoeing and frequently visited the Boundary Waters and many other wilderness areas.

She is survived by her domestic partner, Mary Mastaglio, family members, many many friends and her WECA family to which she gave so much. WECA, together with the Babula and Mastaglio families are discussing how best to honor Mary’s significant legacy and impact with the financial gifts that friends and colleagues have made in her name. In early 2016 we look forward to sharing more details with you.

Why Mentoring Matters

Why Mentoring Matters

We all probably have a story of a person who we might call a mentor. That is, a person who took the time to give helpful advice, served as the role model of the teacher we aspired to be, or encouraged us through a tough time until we came out stronger and more knowledgeable in the end. This is professional development with ‘staying power.’

Peggy Haack

“Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.” -Peggy Haack, WECA Outreach Coordinator, and mentor.

Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in creating more formalized mentoring relationships.  The key word here is “relationships.” The real learning happens when there is a trusting relationship between a learning teacher and a mentor.  Programs experience success and at the same time discover a new pathway of leadership for teachers when they match those willing to serve as mentors to those who are less experienced or skillful.  Other programs choose to work with mentors from outside of their programs.  For both models, an investment of time is required to build a relationship between a learning teacher and a skilled mentor.

I believe that there are three powerful parallels between our work with children and the success of mentoring as a way to grow teacher competence.

First is the concept of relationships. We know this to be the key to unlocking curiosity and an eagerness to learn in children.  It’s the same for adults.  If we trust that someone really cares about who we are, what we think and how we learn, then we aim to please!

Second is the concept of developmentally appropriate practice.  We know from our work with children that if we take the time to figure out just where the child is on the learning curve, we can craft a plan suited to him or her.  We figure out the next step and build upon small successes so the challenges don’t seem overwhelming. Mentoring embodies this “one-to-one” approach.

The third parallel is the concept of reflective practice.  Our work with children teaches us to question why and to seek answers. For example, “Why is this transition so difficult for the children and how can I change it?”  When it comes to professional development, often the learning teacher knows what she wants to change in her practice, but doesn’t know how or maybe even why.  Having a mentor to help sort through the questions and attune to the teacher’s goals may be exactly what it takes.  For the person who is also engaged in formal education, mentoring can be the bridge between taking what one learns in a classroom and through textbooks and actually putting that learning into practice – a process that requires a great deal of reflection.

Mentoring is about supporting teachers as learners through their everyday practice. Mentoring can intentionally implemented as part of a professional development plan.  Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

ffyf top priority graphic

For three years running, the First Five Years Fund’s annual bipartisan poll shows that early childhood education is a national priority for Americans, regardless of party. ““For the first time in our three years of polling, American voters’ top priority is making sure children get a strong start in life, a concern equal to improving the overall quality of public education,” says Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund. In the poll, 89% of voters agree that we need to ensure more children don’t miss out on early learning and socialization experiences during the first five years of life when the brain develops more dramatically. 63% strongly agree on this point.


ffyf invest now graphic

What does this mean for Wisconsin?
For WECA – a statewide organization focused on the child care workforce and programs that raise childcare quality – the findings inspire us to keep moving forward. In myriad ways WECA calls for greater investment in quality early care. Our outreach, education and advocacy on this issue is multi-faceted. In 2015 WECA published Starting Early, Starting Now, a research report that outlines potential ways forward in funding a child care delivery system in Wisconsin that is accessible and affordable to all families. Our interactive “Jack’s story” shows the return on investment Wisconsin taxpayers will see when young children get quality early care right from the start. And as the source detail notes – the financial projections are conservative. Throughout the year WECA staff meet with Wisconsin legislators and serve as policy advisors on key state and national committees focused on young children and the early childhood workforce that is so central to the outcomes we seek. WECA works with community partners and recently, sponsored a viewing and discussion of the Raising of America documentary that is traveling throughout the U.S.

As we move closer to the general election cycle we’ll be increasing our outreach and education on behalf of early childhood education investments in Wisconsin.

Your support is needed – as an advocate in our Forward for Kids initiative – and as a donor.  Contributions enable WECA to strengthen its statewide advocacy work that unites families, policymakers, child care providers and others in building a high quality and affordable system of early care and education for all children.