Sunday, August 19, 2018

Self Care for Parents of Young Children

I'm writing this article today as an advocate for new parents. I know how hard it can be- I became a single parent when my son was just about a year old, and I struggled with health issues throughout his early childhood. However, I persevered and got through it with a little help from my friends, family, and doctors- all of whom helped me care for myself as much as I did my son.

I know that self care can be elusive in the midst of caring for a young child. Being a parent can be very demanding of our time, energy, and patience, and can seem like there is no time left for anything else. It's pretty crucial that we do take some time for self care, however- we're able to do much more as parents if we aren't constantly fatigued or sick. Here are some ways to incorporate self care in your busy schedule.

Early Bedtime- For them, not you. My son was in bed from 7-8pm each day. (He also woke up at 7am each day). Having that time at night to myself was really what kept me going the most. This was the time I had to catch up on the things I wasn't able to get to during the day, as well as to relax a bit- finally.

Exercise- This is something you can definitely incorporate during the day- I used to walk or hike with my son (in a stroller or carrier- or with him toddling along) daily. Another way you could do this is find a gym with a childcare room. This might be difficult if your young one gets upset separating from you, however.

Find your community- If you can help it at all, try not to be alone with your kids all day. Everyone needs help from time to time, whether it's with childcare or with moral support- both are pretty important. Social media can be good for moral support, but it really can't take the place of spending time with other people in person. There are lots of ways to do this- for us it was playgroups, moving closer to family, being a part of an early childhood education community, and getting out to activities and places for young ones as much as possible.

Find a confidant- Please also don't hesitate to set up counseling for yourself- no matter what your income level is, there is always a trained professional to talk to. This can often be a better option than talking to family or friends. It's just the way our brain works- it often takes an objective person to be the sounding board we need to move past what may be in the way of our ability to be at peace with ourselves. It goes without saying that we are then able to pass on that inner peace to our children. Call 211 or visit to find counseling services near you.

Do what you enjoy- Take that precious time you have to yourself to treat yourself. Nuff said!

Hopefully this article, if not offering you new information, will inspire you to be sure to incorporate some time for self care daily. I need to remind myself of that as well! Here in Maryland, school starts the day after Labor Day. Even though my son will be turning 10 this year, our summers have been much like that time when he was very young and we spent every day together. However, I'll be going back to school soon to get ready for a new year, and so will my son! Next week, I'll give you a little insight about being a teacher and how you can work with your child's teacher to make the most of their time at school this year. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Dog Days of Summer- With Young Children

You've spent lots of quality time with your youngster this summer already- lots and lots- and there are still three weeks until school starts again? Welcome to the dog days of summer with a young child! Today's article is about what to do when it seems like your kiddos are too hot, bored, or (insert descriptor here), to make it through the day as happy campers. You both need to stay occupied, a change of scene, or perhaps both, to make it through the next few weeks. Here are a few things to try!

Take a hike- The forest has a magic way of calming down even the most restless of us- there is now even a big thing about tree therapy going around the internet. It has worked like a charm for my son and I- we go in a bit cranky, then we leave relaxed. Make sure to check the difficulty of the trails you use before you go- keep it to easy if you are a beginner or will be baby wearing.

Think cool- This may seem like a no brainer, but we've all been stuck in heat for too long (even if it was our own idea) and suffered the effects. A hot toddler at the zoo, amusement park, or even the beach- is a sad toddler. Dog days are a good time to avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day (the afternoon) or if the air quality is bad (code red). It might seem cliche, but let's just go over all our "cool" options- air conditioning, ice cream, popsicles, lemonade, water play. You get the idea.

Find your Zen- Being inside is the cool choice in the dog days, but the same old indoor activities can be difficult for young children who need constant monitoring. Be prepared- keep your home stocked with toys, books, art supplies, calming music, and movies. Come up with a list of places to go, friends/family to visit, and things you could do and stick to it. This is your mantra. When in doubt-

Go for a Drive- If you haven't tried this mom trick before, this may be the time to start! The drive itself can help calm the kids down- then you are suddenly somewhere different, and that could play to your favor as well. Even if you just go to the grocery store, on a dog day it could be the highlight of the day if you leave with ice cream.

One last recommendation for the dog days is to let yourself be aimless for a little while. No need to make an agenda or to try to squeeze in one more trip for the summer. Focus on getting through the day relatively unscathed. Definitely make time for self care as well- more on that topic next week! Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Early Language Learning- Part III

Today I'll conclude my writing about learning language, especially a second language, in early childhood. I've already written about how we learn language in our early years, and some research about the benefits of learning a second language (see my two previous blog entries to read up on those topics), so today I'll recommend resources and programs to accomplish this goal with your tot.  I'll give a brief summary- each title links to more information as well.

Berlitz- This is the company that publishes all those second language dictionaries you had to buy for your foreign language classes. They are an older company, and offer conversational classes in multiple languages nationally for kids and teens.

Little Pim- This early language program is designed with your little ones in mind. It covers multiple languages, including ESL- the only drawback I see is that it's all video based with some supplementary lessons and activities.

Muzzy- Parents might remember Muzzy from learning a second language in school. After checking out the website, I was impressed with the extensive lesson plans and learning materials you could get to supplement this video-based series. Muzzy also emphasizes and includes learning songs.

Language Tree- This program is the last video based program I'll recommend looking into. The types of videos include live action and nature (as opposed to animated), so that may be a plus depending on what you are looking for.

Private Lessons- If your family is serious about learning a second language, you may want to invest in a private teacher for you and your little one. Similar to hiring someone to help you learn to play a musical instrument, you'll get individualized attention and a live person to talk to. You may end up using the programs listed above (such as Muzzy), except with someone already fluent in the language, someone who could help you accomplish the supplemental lessons.

Music based programs- If you've been following my blog, you know that I stress the benefits of music in early childhood education often. I have quite a list of musician friends and acquaintances who have online content, and perform or teach as well. Please check them out!
Canta y Baila Conmigo
Cantale a Tu Bebe
Moo Moo Muzica
Musica Lingua
Mi Amigo Hamlet
123 Andres
Mister G
Alina Celeste
Jose Luiz Orozco
Sonia De Los Santos
Flor Bromley
Mama Lisa

Remember learning a language often requires immersion. Young children learn language in fun, social settings- and it doesn't happen overnight. A combination of practice, persistence, and continuity should lead to lasting results. Good luck, and have fun! For next week's blog, I'll write about what you can do with your kids in the late summer. Any parent of children who don't attend a school program during the summer will know what I'm talking about. What can you do after you've already done the usual summer things (vacation, camp, day trips)- to keep your children busy (and yourself sane)? My recommendations will all be low cost to free as well. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Early Language Learning- Part II

As I'm still compiling the many resources parents and educators have for providing early second language learning experiences for their children, this week I thought I would share some articles about the benefits of learning a second language in early childhood. Today, I'll summarize each one- give you a bit of food for thought before I recommend more resources in next week's article.

Learning a Second Language is Good Child Mind Medicine, Studies Find- This article from the Cornell Chronicle shares findings that young children who learn a second language also often develop an ability to maintain focus despite distractions. It also shares that native language proficiency is earned faster in many cases. It recommends immersion as the method for learning- in engaging social ways- including music.

Second-Language Acquisition and Bilingualism at an Early Age and the Impact on Early Childhood Development- Addressing the fear that learning more than one language at a time in early childhood interferes with normal language development is the main idea of this article from the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. The studies cited found that the most prevalent outcome for early bilingualism is, again, an enhancement of the executive function (that brain function that allows us to focus and plan), although is wasn't the only possible outcome.

Benefits of Learning a Second Language at an Early Age- This article from Lead With Languages is less focused on the science behind early language development, and more on encouraging parents and educators to go ahead and get started. For those who are already converted to the idea- by all means start here! There are links from this article to online resources for self starters. 

Because there isn't a second language spoken in my family, I found it difficult to provide much immersive experiences for my son when he was young. The best ways I found to give him a boost in this area were in consistent, live music settings, however, that doesn't mean that music is the only way to go with early language learning. Check out my article next week when I'll be a bit more comprehensive and perhaps carve out a path for you to try immersing your little one in an early second language learning opportunity!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Early Language Learning- Part I

Last week I mentioned I would write today about young children learning a different language. As I thought about that prospect, however, I realized before I talk specifically about that (more next week), I should talk about language development in general- so here goes! 

Some of my most interesting conversations have been with children ages six and under. And I mean interesting. I had a five year old student who loved to tell me stories, but the events came out in a different order. I've talked to preschoolers about one thing, then it ended up we were talking about two or three other different things. I've had many fairly one sided conversations with toddlers in which children contribute a word or two, maybe some unintelligible sentences- much like talking to oneself, but you kind of think they might be getting some of what you're saying as well. And I've talked a good deal with babies- who you like to think totally understand what you are saying- at least I do!

Studies on language development show that young children acquire language as part of their cognitive and social development. Physical speech development- muscle coordination, etc.- also comes into play. This means that as the brain and body develop, hopefully in an environment where a young child hears and can participate in a lot of language- hearing it socially- a young child learns how to "use their words" and join the conversation. 

A young child's language often develops in fits and starts- growth spurts- so it can be difficult to know for sure if they are developmentally "on track" or not. I had an unusual speech development. (I didn't start talking until I was five, while most babies have their first words at around age one). This was because of a few different things- chronic ear infections, a physical "tongue tie"- but here I am anyway, making music for young children and writing about my experience with them. The bottom line is, young children are built for language development, so even if it seems like they aren't quite there yet, as long as there isn't something else going on (hearing or other physical difference), they will be able to talk with you soon.

The part we can play as parents, caregivers, and teachers is to provide that rich social environment, loaded with opportunities to both hear language socially and to speak it to the best of their ability. As you'll see below, you can do this in all kinds of different ways. Click each subject heading to link to an article to find out a little more if you'd like. 

Talk to your children- Holding an often one-sided conversation can take some imagination and practice, but it's the key to early language development. Just remember your role in the conversation is to encourage speech, not necessarily to judge it. 

Read to your child every day- Make a habit of reading to your child- all the way from infancy to 6 and beyond. I did this every day for my son before bed, and often times throughout the day. The benefits of hearing language in this way prime children to both read and speak later on.

Sing, play music, or attend a live music event- Having had speech issues myself, I know that singing often slows down and evens out the rhythm of language so that it's easier to understand and vocalize. There are also studies on how music stimulates the brain in ways normal speech does not- check it out (click the subject heading to link to an article about this)!

Attend library storytimes- Here's an event where people are attending to live language- from these fascinating things called books! That is, one person is saying something, and other people are making an effort to listen. If this isn't giving young children the opportunity to hone their focus on language in a social setting, I don't know what is. 

TV or not TV?- That is the question. There is a ton of excellent children's programming- rich with language, music, and engaging visuals. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend TV for babies 18 months and younger, however. It recommends watching TV together with children 18 months to 5 years so you can talk about what you are watching. 

Talk to any young child, and you'll discover their perspective pretty quickly, even if their only way to communicate with you yet is to smile, cry, or laugh! It also turns out you can talk "normally" (you don't have to "baby talk" or simplify your language) to young children- although it helps to be direct and expressive. 

I leave you today with a picture of my son (you'll see his baby pictures a lot on my blog). He's pointing at a bird, and he's also telling me it's a bird. (This was one of his first words)! Don't forget, more next week on learning different languages in early childhood!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Considering Preschools for Your Early Learner

As a continuation of my writing about childcare, today I'll talk options for children ages 2-6. Any preschool teacher would argue, however, that they are less childcare provider, more teacher- so I did want to make that distinction before I start. As someone who has trained as a teacher, including in early childhood, I can say that dedicated preschool teachers have studied their craft, know about early childhood development, and some are experts in the various philosophies of teaching as described below. They are typically required to take classes periodically for Continuing Education Units (CEUs), and are some of the most patient, hardworking people you'll ever meet. (So are childcare providers)!

When planning for preschool, you'll also want to consider the difference between childcare and "class time." Teachers plan learning time for children, most often during the hours of 9am-noon. Those who are dropped off early are in a "morning care" program, which is childcare. Those who stay after lunch are invited to nap. After nap time, it's usually dismissal, however, if children need to stay longer, there is often an afternoon program, again a more childcare type situation. Your child will "learn" in any situation, but a teacher usually focuses on those morning hours.

Need childcare for your preschooler during the summer? No problem! Most preschools offer "camps" that offer a similar structure as what is offered to early learners during the school year.

I also wanted to point out that some schools offer an early learning classroom for children ages 2-3, while others do not. This is the same for children ages 5-6- sometimes you'll find a Kindergarten age group within the early learning program as well.

Finally, maybe most importantly, you'll want to look at different types of preschools. From Montessori to Reggio Emilia, there is variety in what private preschools have to offer. Public preschools (yes public as in you don't have to pay for it) are also becoming more common, so make sure you check out that option as well! Below I give a description of my experience or what I have learned about each different type of preschool and a link to check it out further.

Montessori- My son attended Montessori from age 2-3. He enjoyed the freedom of movement in the classroom, and kept himself busy with the different types of "work" available. "Work" was individual, student-driven time with Montessori "materials." There was also circle time, where a focused, community, lesson was given.

Reggio Emilia- My son attended this type of school when he was 4. (We moved from California to Maryland that year). Exploration within different themes was encouraged. Lessons were planned based on student ideas and questions. I have a ton of pictures from his time at this school (they liked to document discoveries and learning).

Arts Integrated- If you are lucky to find a preschool that touts arts integration, I definitely suggest checking it out. Studying the arts though music, movement, dramatic play, and visual art is a powerful form of self discovery for any age, but at this age is particularly helpful in developing fine and gross motor skills, language development and coordination.

Waldorf- I don't know much about this type of program except that it emphasizes the arts and handicrafts. Those who find a good Waldorf school will usually share the unique ways it has helped their children.

Academic- Academic preschools are those that focus on preparing children for Kindergarten. There is often more focused, teacher-led lessons, drills, and desk work. Think of them as Kindergarten classrooms but with activities and classwork focused on pre-reading, pre-math, and general knowledge.

Play-based- Students in a play based program are offered time to play and explore, usually within different themes (very similar to Reggio Emilia). Teachers help students work out any problems or questions that arise.

Religious- Preschools that are part of churches, parochial schools, temples, or Jewish Community Centers are often a mixture of academic and play-based, but with a sprinkle of introduction to the family's faith tradition.

Outdoor- These schools focus on outdoor exploration and environmental education. They are a newer type of play-based program that looks to Mother Nature to nurture young learners.

Cooperative- Parents take turns helping out the teachers in a parent preschool co-op. If your child acts differently (and not in a good way) when they are around you, this option may not be for you. (I have tried this too). (It wasn't the best option for me and my son).

Public- Depending on where you live, there may be a public preschool available for your son or daughter. There may even be a public charter option that may take on an early learning philosophy such as Montessori.

I hope that this overview of the different types of childcare and preschools available for your 2-6 year old was helpful! The key to finding the preschool that's right for your child is much the same as finding childcare for your baby- find what seems most comfortable for you and your child. There are lots of options to consider, but you'll know when you find what will work for you and your family. Next week I'll be writing about finding opportunities for your young one to learn different languages- a practice that can enhance their overall language development. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Finding Childcare For Your Very Young Children

Parenting a young child is a job you have around the clock, 24/7. In fact, the younger your children are, the more often you might be awake 24/7. Everyone needs a breather now and then, and most parents also need to work- so where can one find good, reliable care that will also nurture early learning? It's often easier than you might think- even if money is tight! For today's article I'll focus on finding childcare for babies 2 and under. Baby care for working adults is a must, but for this age, I found it the most difficult to work out. To help you consider childcare that is comfortable for you and your child, I'll share my experience with a few different options and offer some pros and cons of each.

Leave Them With Your Family- Grandma and Grandpa, Aunts and Uncles, family loves family, and if there are cousins around the same age, this is a great opportunity for some play based learning as well. Just remember that even though there is typically no charge for this type of childcare, it can be taxing, so be kind to those family members who offer to watch your little ones- set up care about which you both feel comfortable. Talk about their experience- offer support and be generous with your gratitude! Pros- FREE, can include elusive overnight babysitting. Cons- Might not work for long term care or care while you work.

Childcare Exchanges- This is something I did when I wasn't living close to my family. It works best if you have established relationships with other moms that have children of a similar age (maybe from a mom's group or a playgroup). We would work out times we needed help and tried to keep the amount of times we watched each other's kids even. This was great because our kids could play with each other as well, keeping each other occupied and less fussy. I highly recommend trying this because it doesn't cost a dime and helps build relationships between you and other parents, and between your kids! Pros- You and your child will make awesome friends! Cons- It can take time to find a good friend to partner with, one with which you feel comfortable.

Work From Home- If your family situation allows, you can work from home and take care of an infant. I'm not saying it's easy to do this, but it is possible, and might make things easi- er/more financially viable for you. I did some of this myself- just remember, it's only temporary- or if you like it way more than commuting somewhere, it could be the start of something new- something more comfortable for your lifestyle! Pros- No stressful commuting issues (no rush for you and for your baby to be ready in the morning, no more long commutes). Cons- You might not actually be able to get as much work done, and you might get paid less.

Nannies- If you can afford a nanny, and if you feel comfortable with this option- go for it! Experienced nannies have often looked after many, many babies in their time, so they have a good idea how to tend to your baby's needs, even if said baby can't speak for themselves yet. When I was with my son on weekdays, I would often see groups of nannies out at the park with their charges happily playing or napping in strollers. They would ask me if my son was the only baby I looked after. (I think they thought I was also a nanny)! Now I often see nannies out at my music shows as well- so go nannies! Pros- Your child gets individualized attention! Cons- Expense.

In Home Daycares- Some brave parents, most often while starting their own families, become momtrepreneurs or dadtrepreneurs, get licensed, and use their homes as daycares. Make sure you are comfortable with the mom or dad who has set up shop, their space, and the amount of children at the daycare. Find at least three to compare and contrast. A positive benefit of an in home daycare are that the ages of the children there may vary like a family and offer valuable socialization. I have visited, and I've also seen groups from in home daycares out at my music classes as well. Pros- Bonus "brothers and sisters." Cons- Less individualized attention.

Brick and Mortar Daycares- There are many daycares that accept babies- find one about which you feel comfortable. Do the babies there appear happy? Do the childcare workers look like they enjoy working with the babies? Would my baby get held/attended to if he or she was fussing? Are there play spaces and enrichment opportunities (music) designed to support infant development? These are all questions I would ask. Pros- Centers must maintain strict licensing requirements. Cons- Less individualized attention.

Below I've included some links to do some research on your childcare choices- remember the main word here is- you guessed it- comfortable. You'll know after checking out your options, doing some interviews, going on some site visits, checking references and reviews- what type of childcare to go with and when. This is where your parenting instincts kick in- you'll know what's safe and the best way to be resourceful for your children. Good luck- and see you next week for an article on childcare and preschool for children ages 2-5!

National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC)
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Child Care Aware hotline (800-424-2246)