Encouragement for Little People, and their Grown-ups

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.   e.e. cummings

I always knew that reading to children was important because, well, it’s reading and reading to children is good.  In time, I came to realize that reading can be even more than the bonding that happens when you read to a child and teaching children to love books.  By reading, you can help children learn so much about themselves and their world and, better still, a good book can start important conversations about life.

I began to understand a book’s impact when I first experienced the attention of my young listeners.  I got to know when the story was thought-provoking because the children got very quiet and they hung on my every word.  I then learned to wait for what was the clincher — when the conversation began after I finished the book–questions and comments flowed.  I found that reading a book with a thought-provoking subject could comfort, teach and empower a young listener, and that was so powerful.

I find joy searching for that next great book. I do a lot of research.  Unfortunately, you cannot just read the reviews or trust that a favorite children’s book author’s next book is going to be a great one too.  Recently, I read some amazing reviews about After the Fall, by David Santat.  His Caldecott Honor winner, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, was NOT a favorite.  However, there was something about the reviews of After the Fall that made me take a chance.  I bought the book for CHP and am glad I did!

In After the Fall, I found a book that could spark a discussion about what it means to face your fears and try again…not an easy lesson even for a grown-up.  The first time I read it, I shared that, like Humpty Dumpty, I am afraid of heights and I would never ever ride on a roller coaster!  Reading this book offered an opportunity to share that even grown-ups can be frightened of things.  Children are so egocentric, it is so important for them to know that others sometimes feel the way they feel too.  I believe a storybook gets that across to a child because they listen, see and experience it; it is not just words.  The experience is helping teach bravery and the courage to try again.

Who knew that a character like Humpty Dumpty could make ME inspired to be brave and if a picture book about an old storybook egg could do that for this grown-up, imagine what it could do for your child.

Storytime: A Classic Library Service Boosts Literacy and More, Studies Show

As the school year is fast approaching it feels like kismet that I came across this recent article from the School Library Journal.

Parents of students returning to CHP are well aware of my commitment to filling our school with amazing children’s books. I have written many a Carol’s Wall showcasing the magic of books and how they positively affect brain development, relationships and learning.  I am happy to now have a new group of parents to share the message with me!

“`Children enter pre-K classrooms with widely varying prior experiences,’ according to the report. The science is clear: early experiences in the home, in other care settings, and in communities are built into the developing brain and body with lifelong effects on learning, adaptive behavior, and health. These experiences provide either a sturdy or fragile foundation upon which young children’s pre-K teachers construct the next stage on their educational progressions.”

I fill the classroom with books to the delight of our teachers, students and duty parents who are reading and listening. You can also find great picture book recommendations in the Book of the Month section of our website.  As most of you know, I also volunteer every Saturday at the Carroll Gardens Public Library, sharing a Storytime as described in the article. This year, due to the success of the program, there is now a Saturday Storytime in every library in Brooklyn. As this year’s unit is about our neighborhood and service to the community, it is nice to know that giving of yourself in a small way can result in making good happen for all.

 

School Year 2017-18: Children and Service Projects

In early summer I always reach out to new and returning families to share our unit for the upcoming school year.  This past year, students and staff alike loved the animal unit– a unit that was born the year before from listening to the interests of our students.  

Our program is tailored to the interests of the children; inquiry drives the learning process. We focus on a child-generated theme which allows as much student-centered inquiry as possible. We follow our students’ leads and within the context of their interests, infuse developmentally appropriate literacy, math, science, music, art and drama concepts related to the theme.

The animal unit transformed the classroom’s dramatic play area into “The Pet Vet,” the veterinarian’s office.  This proved to be a wonderful venue for many learning opportunities across the disciplines.  The children loved working and playing in the vet’s office, which sparked their interest to learn more about the people and places in our neighborhood.  This set the foundation for our upcoming curriculum unit: children and service projects in the neighborhood.

Not only did this idea stem from our own CHP students, it was introduced in my graduate class by one of my students. She had her own class celebrate the bus service. Every time one of her students took a ride on a city bus, they handed the driver a handmade thank-you card.  Can you imagine how that driver felt at that moment?  When I spoke to my teachers about incorporating service projects into the upcoming neighborhood unit, they were smitten.  Just imagine how much our little ones will learn about where we live as they are offered a chance to say thank you to family, friends and community members.  

Right now, I can see our “Makers Space” (the self-help table in the art area) being a place for children to create things for someone they love — to say thank you to those who have helped them.  We might decide to, as a group, reach out and say thank you to someone in our community and beyond. We could also do things like make bird feeders for hungry birds, collect toys for those in need, and write letters to authors of books we enjoyed. Oh so many possibilities!

Preschoolers and Change…

As the school year nears an end, I thought would I would share some ideas on preparing your children for the upcoming change.

Throughout the year, so many articles pass by my desk, and when I find one I think parents would benefit from, I share it on Facebook or on Carol’s Wall.  In the INTERCHANGE section (where parents send letters to the experts) of Parent Work & Family Life I found something quite “sharable” and appropriate for this time of year.

A parent wrote in to ask the best way to talk to a preschooler about change.  School is almost over and summer without school is almost here.  Transitions, even good ones, can be hard for young children.  Change even makes some adults anxious. I wanted to share this as we are about to embark on summer vacation time.  Some of our students are moving on to Kindergarten and some are off to other programs. This advice should benefit all.

In addition, Dr. Tovah Klein, Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive offers this advice:

“Stay in the Present:  Young children live in the here and now.  Hold off until the last week of school before you start talking about the school year being over.  When you talk about it, also tell your child one fun thing you will be doing during the summer such as going swimming, visiting cousins or playing outside.

Don’t Force Goodbyes:  Children have their own way of handling them.  Some avoid goodbyes, others jump in with enthusiasm. As a way of saying goodbye, you and your child can paint pictures, make cards or purchase small gifts like flower seeds, bubbles, or sidewalk chalk to give to teachers and classmates.

Find Ways to Celebrate: A good way to make the completion of the school year is to plan a joyful celebration at home or out with friends and family.  This marks the occasion for kids in a positive way and helps give them closure.  Make an end-of-the-year cake or have a picnic or play date with friends in a nearby park.

Create a Memory List with your child that lets her or him recall all the fun things that happened at school during the year.”

Hope you found this advice helpful!

Carol

The Annual Parent Survey

The annual parent survey gives our parents the opportunity to assess how we run our program.  It not only is a requirement of our continued accreditation with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), it offers CHP the opportunity for self-reflection and to examine whether our parent community understands:

  • Who we are
  • What we do
  • How your child’s learning experience will impact their education in the future
  • How, as a parent, you feel like a valued part of the school community

When the survey results come in, it is my hope that you and your children feel kindness here and see that every relationship in this program is valued. CHP is a rich place to learn, play and grow.

On your duty day, while you are in the classroom, it is my wish that you observe an abundance of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). You will often hear me use this phrase as it is one of the primary tenets of NAEYC.

Here are effective DAP teaching strategies you should be observing in our classroom:

  1. Acknowledge what children say and do; give positive attention.
  2. Encourage persistence; it is not all about evaluating and praising.
  3. Give specific feedback. General comments to students should be minimal.
  4. Model problem-solving, attitudes, and kind behaviors toward others.
  5. Demonstrate things that are always done a certain way.
  6. Challenge and create so an activity goes beyond what a child can already do; observe and reduce the challenge if need be.
  7. Stimulate children’s thinking; ask questions!
  8. Offer hints or clues if a student needs a bit of assistance to reach their goal.
  9. Provide information and offer facts.
  10. Give directions for behavior or action.

Children enter our classroom with joy because they know CHP is a place where they are cared for. Because of this, there is strong sense of belonging.

Thank you for being part of our CHP family and for taking the time to complete this quick, but important survey.

The Love of Reading

Hello Families,

Get ready:  I think it is time I shared why I became such an avid reader and lover of children’s picture books. But this did not happen right away. I had fond memories of my mother reading to me. I knew that reading to children was important and I anxiously looked forward to a day when I could read to my own child. I imagined snuggling in my rocking chair with my child on my lap, immersed in a book and sharing the special moment. I had great expectations.

My first child devoured books…literally.  She found so much pleasure on chewing on a book, she showed no interest in listening to it.  I know now that she was just a baby but sadly, I took that experience to heart.  I was a new mom and I did not know that everything happens in time.

Lucky for me, shortly thereafter, an old friend gave my daughter a copy of Where’s Spot, by Eric Hill.  This was the key that unlocked the door.  I read that book many times, over and over, and each reading brought my daughter more delight.  This memory makes me smile as I write about it now.  On a side note, I never imagined that my children’s book eater would grow up to become a children’s librarian.  She still devours books but she does so by reading them now!

I have learned so many things about reading to children since those early days.  I learned that I need to love what I share, to be selective about the books I read, and to never ever share a book I pulled off the shelf without reading it to myself first.  I learned to always act out the story, and to talk about the book before and after I read it.

Now, I get the most pleasure in discovering amazing new books and adding them to our school library.  I adore read alouds in snack groups and at the library. I love to watch a book grab a child’s attention as they hang on every word, and when it does, you can hear a pin drop in the room. It is really magical.

Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears is my February Book of the Month, written by this year’s visiting author/illustrator Jessica Olien.  In case you are looking for more suggestions, please check out the list below. I recently purchased these books for CHP thanks to your generous Read-a-thon donations. This year’s Read-a-thon will begin on Saturday, March 18th at the Carroll Gardens Public Library. I hope to see everyone there.

Thank you for supporting our CHP library and for sharing the love of books with your children.

Kindest regards,
Carol

Some of the Newest Books in our CHP Library

My Dog Spot, Jack E. Levin
One Day on Our Blue Planet…in the Antarctic, by Ella Bailey
Before Morning, by Joyce Sidman
Wild Animals of the North, by Dieter Braun
Animals, by Ingela P. Arrhenius
School’s First Day of School, by Adam Rex
Smart about Sharks, by Owen Davey
The Night Gardener, by Terry Fan
Wolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell
Leave Me Alone!  by Vera Brosgol
That’s (Not) Mine, by Anna Kang
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
The Reader, by Amy Hest
Goodnight Everyone, by Chris Haughton
A Greyhound, a Groundhog, by Emily Jenkins
Shark Detective, by Jessica Olien
The Blobfish Book, by Jessica Olien
Pug Meets Pig, by Sue Lowell Gallion
Nanette’s Baguette, by Mo Willems
Dining with…Monsters!  A Disgusting Way to Count to 10!  by Agnese Baruzzi
Billions of Bricks, by Kurt Cyrus
Best Frints in the Whole Universe, by Antoinette Portis
Penguin and Pinecone, by Salina Yoon
Penguin in Love, by Salina Yoon
If You Were a Penguin, by Florence Minor
Grumpy Pants, by Claire Messer
Egg, by Kevin Henkes
Wolves, by Seymour Simon
Plant the Tiny Seed, by Christie Matheson

Holiday Gift Ideas for 2016

Every year when the winter holiday is almost upon us and the gift giving about to begin, I recommend toys and books that are beloved here at CHP. We spent a lot of time this fall talking about and reading rhyming books so I posted a list of some of our favorites. Many parents told me how much they enjoyed my favorite toy and manipulatives list from last year so I am posting it again.
Happy Holidays to All!

Alphabet and Counting Rhyming Books:

Dining with…Monsters!:  A Disgusting Way to Count to 10 ! by Agnese Baruzzi
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
Dr. Seuss’s ABC, by Dr. Seuss

Classic Rhyming Books:

Green Eggs and Ham  and The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss (my favorites but there are many of the other gems from Dr. Seuss!)
Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, by Al Perkins
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See,  by Bill Martin Jr.
Chicken Soup with Rice, by Maurice Sendak
A House is a House for Me, by Mary Ann Hoberman

Holiday Rhyming Books:

Five Little Pumpkins, by Dan Yaccarino
Stick Man and Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson (and many other rhyming gems from Judith Donaldson!)

Musical Rhyming Books:

Baby Beluga, by Raffi
Down by the Bay, by Raffi and Nadine Bernard Westcott

Fun Rhyming Books:

Dinosaur Roar! by Henrietta and Paul Stickland
Mrs. McNosh Hangs up the Wash, by Sarah Weeks and Nadine Bernard Westcott
Silly Sally, by Audrey Wood
Jamberry, by Bruce Degan
Subway, by Christoph Niemann
Trashy Town, by Andrew Zimmerman and Davie Clemesha

Pets and Animals:

The Pet Vet, by Marcia Leonard
The Big Red Barn, by Margaret Wise Brown
Favorite CHP Toys and Manipulatives:
BUILDING!
Magna Tiles are some of the more popular building toys at CHP, a favorite of girls and boys.  They are very easy to build with so this allows building with little frustration.  Warning:  These builders are not cheap but they are educational, fun, and extremely durable.
SCIENCE!

Binoculars and magnifying glasses are often in use at the science center. What is nice about these science tools is that they are light and portable so you can take them with you when you explore.
Classic Forest Animal Collection:

These little forest creatures are always SO popular!
LITERACY AND MATH!
These sequencing puzzles are well loved at CHP. They are not the standard jig saw puzzle. Each puzzle piece is the same size–long wooden strips.  These puzzles are completed both visually and with knowledge of numbers and ABC letter sequencing.

Measuring Tape:

Like binoculars and magnifying glasses, measuring tape can be another “take along” toy.  Measurement is such a great way to learn about numbers, estimation and comparison.

Alphabet Learning Locks:
What a fun way to recognize the alphabet and use your fine motor skills!

WRITING!
Faber-Castell Markers:
Faber-Castell GRIP Color Markers (Non-Toxic and Washable) are our most popular writing tools.  The colors are bright, they are easy to use and you can even revive them with a little bit of water if they dry out.

PRETEND PLAY!
These little people are great for pretend play.  They are used in so many ways like in block builds and are well loved at the playdough table too.

ART and CRAFTS!

Assorted Colored Masking Tape and Dispenser:
Children have LOVED working with this colored masking tape. They use it to make letters, pictures and to build things.  This set comes with a large wooden dispenser so it is a bit pricey but you can buy tape refills.  I predict your child will use their imagination with this item for years to come.

Talking Toys vs. The Sound of Your Voice

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/01/11/462264537/the-trouble-with-talking-toys

I was so happy to have someone put in writing what I recognized for a long time–the best way to stimulate language development in your toddler is to talk to them.  This article focuses on infants and toddlers but much of the same goes for three and four-year-olds.  Children need to look at your face, learn by watching your expressions and listen to the tone of your voice.  Did you know that children need to hear 30,000 words a day for optimum language development—your words not words from a Smart Phone or device.  We know there is limited vocabulary learned from a talking toy, but there is so much more to this.

I was lucky attend a lecture last week by Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair—the author of The Big Disconnect-Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, someone I have written about previously on Carol’s Wall.

What I learned at the lecture was compelling. I knew that babies and toddlers should not be exposed to devices under the age of two and some experts believe even longer than that. I also knew that babies need real life experiences and strong connections to humans and nature.

What I did not know (but what made so much sense) is that recent studies have shown a baby’s brain “lights up” when a known person reads to them. There is no lighting up the brain with a device reading or a talking toy.  If you want your children exposed to “books on tape” for the child to have the best learning experience, the tape should be the voice of a mom, dad or teacher.

Of note here too is that smart phones became part of our lives only seven years ago.  They were launched very quickly–before we knew what we were getting into. There was never any research done to assess the impact on the infant or toddler brain or the psychological fallout on young children. To make it worse, technology remains an unregulated industry.

The article did not discuss talking toys for the preschool age group but it is easy to understand that a talking toy or device does not serve this age group well. We know that preschoolers have vivid imaginations. Unfortunately, devices do not. When a toy “talks,” it does not think. You activate the toy and it says the same things over and over again. Once a child realizes this, if they want to interact with it, they need to stop using their imagination and change their play to accommodate the words of the toy.  Conversely, anything is possible when you play with a silent toy because you play without limitations. Just think of plain wooden blocks. They can be arranged into castles and harbors and spaceships. The sky’s the limit.

While writing this, I took a moment to Google talking toys and, immediately, up popped famous toy makers’ versions of a talking chair, dog, bear, and my least favorite, a play kitchen. The kitchen says, “Who wants pizza?” and “Mmmmm cookies!” In this offering, I found another toy connected to the play kitchen. At an additional cost, you can purchase an ice cream set that “sings” ice cream and clean-up songs.  How sad.

It is so wrong that big toy companies sell toys under the educational guise.  So, what can you do about this?

Parents need to be empowered to know that there is nothing a talking toy or screen can teach your child better than you can. Your children want moments of connection with you, with human touch and comfort. Know too that devices are hyper-stimulants. In the case of the smart phone, remember that children need non-talking toys and hugs, not a digital pacifier.

Studies have shown that the greatest educational gift you can give to your child is to read to them, for 20 minutes twice a day. Get rid of the talking toys and devices!

Last year, my assistant Kristin had the foresight to create a place for articles and videos on our website—the perfect place to share them with the CHP community.  Last month I posted an nprEd article — The Trouble with Talking Toys.

In the words of a CHP student, “Animals are the coolest!”

In a few weeks summer will end and a new school year will begin, so what better time for a sneak-peek of the curriculum unit for 2016-2017. For those of you who are unfamiliar with how we develop a curriculum unit, we do so by listening to our students.
Our program is tailored to the interests of the children; inquiry drives the learning process. We focus on a child-generated theme which allows as much student-centered inquiry as possible. We follow our students’ lead and within the context of their interests, infuse developmentally appropriate literacy, math, science, music, art and drama concepts related to the unit concept.
What I hope will happen during a school year is that we will get an idea of what is currently of interest to our students. We are always listening to the children to learn what they want to know more about.  Last year, our unit focused on teamwork and superheroes.  During the unit, many children mentioned that animals are part of a team too. We have never had a year-long unit on animals, so we were all excited at the prospect.  An animal unit brings so many opportunities for learning across the disciplines.

I can tell you that the unit will begin with animals that we know—do we have animals in our homes and in our neighborhood?  Even though we live in an urban area, we have wild animals in our backyards and parks.  I promise to do my best this year to photograph the possum who, on occasion, finds her way to my backyard tree!  Thank you to all for sending in your pet photos.  No worries here if you do not have a pet.  As in all things CHP, everyone will have a chance to take part in the pet portion of the unit.  You may not currently own a pet but might dream of owning one someday.  I, for one, do not currently own a tea cup pig, but I would love to have one—especially if I get a guarantee that it will not get bigger than a tea cup!  Dream pets will surely be part of the unit too.

A nice note here is that I spoke with one of our CHP families who is moving to Mexico this fall.  When she asked me about our upcoming unit, I told her about the animal unit and with great excitement, she offered to keep in touch via Skype to share with us the two pets that will join their family in Mexico: a sheep and a goat!  If you have friends and family who might want to share their animals with us, please reach out to them and let us know!

As the year unfolds, we will learn from the children about what animals they want to know more about.  I have also devoted a lot of time this summer to researching great children’s books on animals.  Thanks to our Read-a-thon financed book budget, I was able to make them a part of our school library.  All the most popular books will be shared with you on our website.

We will write, draw, count, sing and pretend to be different animals.

Oh the possibilities of a year of animal study!  It is going to be a great year!

Summer and the Great Outdoors

I was recently sent these two NAEYC articles and I just had to share. As summer is almost upon us, many of our CHP families will be leaving the Big City to explore the great outdoors.
I fondly remember summer vacations in the Northern Adirondacks. Some of my most treasured family memories are of time spent together exploring nature. We did many of the things listed in these articles.
So this summer, if you and your family find yourself on a hike, on a lake or anywhere Mother Nature is abundant, you might like to try some of these ideas and activities. Enjoy!

10 Ideas to Get You and Your Child Exploring Outdoors

by Donna Satterlee, Grace Cormons, and Matt Cormons

1. Go for a nature scavenger hunt.
Find something that:
•    Is a certain color
•    Is dry, wet, shiny, or pretty
•    Is tiny or huge
•    The wind blows
•    Crawls
•    Has no legs, four legs, or six legs
•    Or make up your own ideas!

2. Put a twist on your scavenger hunt:
•    Find three flowers that are different. Smell the flowers. Close your eyes and see if you can identify the flowers by smell.
•    Find a fuzzy leaf. Find a leaf that releases an aroma when crushed, such as sage.
•    Try finding things in categories, such as items with bark, items that are high, or items with branches.

3. Observe and sketch.
Examine items carefully and draw what you see. For example, find flowers of different colors and point out the petals and other parts. Or find a variety of leaves and observe the different shapes, colors, textures, and veins. You and your child can imagine you are scientists, observing and documenting what you see.

4. Follow an ant trail.

Look up and look down, look all around, and feel free to crawl on the ground. Place a small piece of food nearby and watch what happens.

5. Observe a tree throughout the seasons.
Watch for leaf and flower buds bursting in the spring, insects buzzing in the summer, and leaves changing colors in the fall. During all seasons, watch for visitors to the tree—birds and small animals looking for food or a resting place.

6. Find nature in surprising places.
Look for places to explore near where you live. Nature can hide in the cracks of a sidewalk, under the stairs, in abandoned lots, or on the edges of manicured lawns. Don’t worry if you don’t live near an open field, a forest, a desert, or a seashore.

7. Press flowers and leaves.
Find flowers and let them dry, pressed between the pages of a heavy book. Once they are dry, use them to make crafts. For example, put clear contact paper over the flowers to make a placemat. In the fall, try the same activity with leaves. Find orange, yellow, purple, red, or brown leaves. Find a dry leaf and crunch it!

8. Explore holes and mud.
In an out-of-the-way corner, dig a hole and pour water in it to see what happens. Ask your child where she thinks the water goes. Play with the mud, squish it between your toes, and jump over or in the hole. When you are done, fill the hole with dirt again, and check it later to see what’s growing there.

9. Explore seeds.
Find some weeds! How are their seeds dispersed? Do the seeds cling to your clothes, are they carried by the wind, or are they flung when the seedpods are touched? Ask your child what he discovered during this investigation.

10. Collect conservatively.
Discuss collecting with your child. If the ground is carpeted with acorns or flowers, it’s probably okay to take one unless it’s on a refuge where collecting is prohibited. Examine something for a few hours and then let it go again. Keep fireflies in a jar and release them the next morning. Transfer fish, turtles, or frogs to an aquarium for a night. Some fish will survive in an aquarium if you transfer them with the same water from where you found them.

Explore the Great Outdoors with Your Child

by Donna Satterlee, Grace Cormons, and Matt Cormons

Children are natural explorers. Set some basic boundaries, and let the child discover. The learning will come. Children use all of their senses to explore. They look and listen to observe what is happening around them, touch what they can reach, smell the fresh scents of nature, and occasionally taste when given permission. They run, jump, dig, and climb as they discover new places.
For a child, everything is new—even the tiniest things are interesting and exciting. In today’s entertainment-driven world, exploring the outdoors is an opportunity for children to actively engage in learning. Here are a few steps you can take to guide children’s exploration of the great outdoors.

Explore safely. Join your children in the fun if they want you to, and keep an eye on them. Before you begin, dress appropriately and teach your child the basic safety rules of the outdoors. Simplicity is often the key to establishing safety rules, and there is usually no need to restrict children. They rarely do something that makes them uncomfortable, unless someone is urging them on or daring them.

Let children choose what to explore. Let children explore, and see what they do on their own without offering suggestions. Do they run? Build? Climb? Even an activity as simple as digging leads to exploration. Children learn how to dig, the way soil feels, the angle of the slope before loose dirt slides back down, and the difference between dry and wet soil.

Ask open-ended questions. As children explore on their own, remain involved. Ask about their discoveries. Ask open-ended questions they can understand and answer with their observations. “What did you find? Oh, a bug? What does it look like? How does it move?” You do not have to know all the answers to children’s questions. Discuss what you see—the shape of leaves, the color of the soil, the movement of the grasses. The more your child observes, the more the world around him will make sense. Discovering how to learn through observation is important. Your child doesn’t have to know the names of all the plants and animals he finds. He will learn through his observations. You can even suggest he make up descriptive names of his own.

Touch, lift, look under. Children need to touch the natural world to more fully understand it. In some cases, gently touching an object with one finger may be helpful. For example, gently nudge a frog or a grasshopper to help a child learn how animals move. When possible, though, examine an object from all sides. Looking carefully at the underside of a log and then carefully replacing it, for example, helps children understand that creatures live under the log and that not disturbing the creatures’ habitat is important.

Guide children to draw conclusions from the observations they’ve made. The best learning occurs when children come to conclusions for themselves. It would be easy to draw on your own knowledge to say, “It’s fall now. See, the leaves are red. Remember that they used to be green?” Instead, try asking questions or describing what you see, feel, hear, and smell. “Do you remember what color the leaves were last time we took this walk? What do you see now?” This modeling will help your child learn to use her own senses when exploring. Remembering and sharing helps a child learn, and shared memories bring cohesiveness as a family.

Some Cautions
Although we want children to explore at will, there are certain precautions that you will need to take.

Teach children to:
•    Be aware of the environment and the creatures that live there.
•    Always watch where they put their hands and feet. If they left shoes outside, make sure they empty their shoes before putting them back on.
•    Use clear cups and look before they drink. No one wants to accidently drink an insect!
•    Be wary of brown recluse spiders (also known as violin or fiddleback, spiders), black widow spiders, scorpions, and poisonous snakes.
•   Be cautious when lifting boards or rocks to find animals and insects. Also be careful to observe what is living there without disturbing their environment.
•   Recognize poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. If you or your child comes into contact with any of these plants, scrub the exposed area with dish detergent or another strong soap.

Prepare yourself and your child to encounter insects and stains.
•    Wear old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
•    Wear light-colored clothing to keep insects at bay. Some insects are attracted to dark colors.
•    Wear a scarf or hat when walking through the woods.

Donna J. Satterlee, EdD, teaches child development in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.  She has collaborated with Grace and Matt Cormons since 1999 to implement the successful nature-based family learning program Shore People Advancing Readiness for Knowledge (SPARK).

© 2013 National Association for the Education of Young Children — Promoting excellence in early childhood education