Happy #EarthDay 2015!

April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day! It has now been 45 years since the first Earth Day was held and it is probably more important now than it was in 1970. The focus of Earth Day is the celebration of environmental education and inspiring environmental learning and stewardship of everyone.

For several generations we have been less connected to our environment than our ancestors, yet we have done much more to affect the current and future healthy of the environment than others. That responsibility of stewardship can start at a very young age and Earth Day is a great opportunity to plant that seed in children and start teaching some basics.

Have them investigate, examine, and take an active-physical-sensory approach to learning. With the right activities you not only get them outdoors, but develop social sensory, literacy, language, and a full range of other skills at the same time.

Here are a few ideas for environmental education activities perfect for little hands:

Berry painting

Climb the gully

Not doing your own event and want somewhere to see environmentalism in action? Check out the events at www.earthday.org. You will find lots of great organizations that are active year round.

Need more ideas? Here are a few of our favorite books . . .

Celebrate Nature

Early Activities   Nature sparks  Lens on outdoor

April is National #StressAwareness Month

April 9, 2015

We all experience stress in our everyday lives and children are no exception. April is National Stress Awareness Month and while you are checking in on your own mental health be sure to check in on the little ones in your care.

There are several frequent behaviors that could be an expression of stress. In fact, many of these should sound familiar from your own responses to stress. What should you look for?

  • Learning issues such as a lack of focus and concentration. If a child is stressed they might only be able to focus on the worries on their mind instead of the lesson or task in front of them.
  • Problems understanding cause and effect when it comes to their behavior and the disciplinary action taken. When we are stressed we often see things as irrational that we would otherwise accept and understand. Consistency in your response to their behavior is very important, so they can build trust and make the connection.
  • Physical reactions such as heightened startle responses, moodiness, lack of empathy, trouble sleeping, and nightmares. These are all natural responses your body has to stress at any age.

So what do you do to help little ones dealing with stress?

Teaching self-quieting and coping skills to children can help them manage stress throughout their lives. When you think about how you react to stress imagine what it is like for a child. Their brains are still developing the ability to respond in slower, more rational ways so they are more likely to be high-jacked by their automatic survival responses of fight/flight/freeze.

First, offer emotional security; let them know they are safe to express themselves around you. In this safe environment offer sensory healing opportunities such as play, art, and writing that allows them to work through their emotions without being overwhelmed by them.

Many children don’t fully grasp emotions even when they aren’t stressed. As Barbara Oehlberg reminds us, “feelings are abstract and uncertain issues for children”. If they can practice identifying them in others they may be more comfortable owning their own emotions. Looking at images of others helps them realize their feelings are a normal and natural part of life.

Sometimes even we, as adults, need to remember that it is okay to be stressed and that we need to have ways to cope and work through it. So to build resiliency for long term success we need to help ourselves and children express and label feelings, develop self regulation, manage fears that are disguised as anger, manage stress, and solve problems instead of mask them – remember children model the behavior they see so if you can do it you will help them learn to do it too!

Here is a great activity to remind everyone (adult or child) that there is always someone there to value them . . .

wish box activity

Source: Oehlberg, Barbara. Making It Better: Activities for Children Living in a Stressful World. St. Paul: Redleaf Press, 2014.

Guest Blogger: A Funny Thing Happens on the Way by Holly Elissa Bruno

April 1, 2015

We’re delighted to welcome back guest blogger Holly Elissa Bruno. Through her Share Your Stories series, Holly Elissa has taught us all about the gift of second chances. Here she shares a story of a detour and the serendipitous second chances that emerge. When “a funny thing happens on the way” maybe it is a sign that you have a lesson to learn and a second chance to accept.specialguestblogger

Previous stories from Holly Elissa’s blog posts, and even some reader comments, appear in her upcoming book, The Comfort of Little Things. Life is full of detours and second chances, share your own story in the comments below (and who knows maybe it will appear in Holly’s future projects).

“We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”*

Holly Elissa Bruno

A funny thing can happen on the way to our destination: A detour spirits us into the unforeseen. We can’t turn back. The known road is closed.

Have you experienced or witnessed this unfolding way life works? An unanticipated turning of the heart may result.

In my case, a funny thing happened on the way to a routine, unpleasant but necessary medical procedure. Katie Couric exhorts us to have this screening. Sandra Bullock quips: “Invite your friends to join you.”

Routine colonoscopies save lives and could perhaps have saved Katie Couric’s husband and Sandra Bullock’s mom. So we do what we have to do, grateful to get them over with.

As with many procedures, the actual event isn’t the problem: anticipatory anxiety and distasteful preparation are the problem. Some of us swear off lemon-flavored drinks forever after.

Thirsty and starving (no drinking for four hours or eating on the day leading up to the procedure), I want to be done with it. Having been sickened by an allergic reaction to the pills added to the preparation, I am cranky. Let’s roll!

So what if a rhumba is rocking the monitor? My heart has always beaten to a different drummer. The erratic rate is likely a PTSD response. Invasive medical procedures trigger PTSD. Once my heart feels safe, it will normalize itself. These things I tell myself.

The anesthesiologist’s eyes narrow; gastroenterologist Dr. Song himself rushes to my gurney. My denial protests, “Let’s finish the procedure. I feel okay. No chest pains. This happens a lot.” Dr. Song’s, “No. We need to get you to the ER,” is both resolute and gentle. I would travel the road ahead by ambulance.

This detour gets my attention. I befriend Matt, an ambulance EMT, alerting him of my PTSD and what I need to feel safe. “You too?” Matt replies. “Afghanistan got me.” His fellow EMT says, “Iraq for me”. A clearing in the woods established in a heartbeat, we talk triggers and flashbacks (in my case to violent childhood abuse), and more importantly, what helps. As we wait in the ER for space to clear, medical staff stop by, attracted to the spirited conversation.

Holly Elissa EROnce in my curtained “room,” hooked up to more monitors, I meet Dr. Ximena Castro, hospitalist, with whom I immediately cut to the chase, summarizing what happened and asking for data and clarity. She is equally direct about the tests she will order and the diagnostic path. Soon, she and I are leveling about her pathway from Cuba into medicine and about how our traditional families coped with non-traditional daughters. Our laughter calls others into the curtained space. Party in the ER!

Heart rhythm expert Dr. Dionysus Robotis joins us. I had already gotten the skinny on Dr. Robotis from the nurses. I am ready for him, What’s up with my heart? Yes, heart disease runs in the family. Yes, I’ve told doctors for years about my unique heart beat; it never shows up when I’m being examined. Go figure.

All this time, I am asking God to be with me. When I’m scared, I say I’m scared. When I’m grateful, I say I’m grateful. When I need help, I say I need help. I have steadfastly been unlearning the command I carried from childhood: Face trauma alone. Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. I’m texting my friends to ask for prayers. We are only as sick as our secrets.

Test results come in. A pronouncement is made: I have Atrial flutter, an electronic abnormality. Neurons tell my heart to beat too often and too much. Cause? Remedy? “We’ll get you stabilized with medication,” Dr. Robotis advises.

Dr. Song shows up after his full day of surgeries. He agrees: if Dr. Robotis says the colonoscopy is safe, Dr. Song will schedule it the following morning as long as I continue not to eat or drink. I am relieved I will not have to start the prep all over again. Once every five years is more than enough for me.

Friends text with sweet concern; Nick, my feisty son, is calling ER staff to demand they treat his mom royally. Suddenly, I am weary. Metoprolol has calmed my heart; rhumba has surrendered to foxtrot.

Night on the cardiac ward is measured every four hours by the taking of vital signs. A patient in the room beside me wails like a wounded elk every hour; my roommate crossly refuses treatment. I sleep when I can, noticing the moon outside my window is where it has always been. I rest. Moon through window

Next morning, I wave the queen’s wave as I am wheeled down the hospital corridor to the colonoscopy. Who else smiles on the way to a colonoscopy?

Procedure accomplished, I request a toasted cheese sandwich (whole wheat bread, please) and a drink.

That’s the moment I realize I have changed: I am choosing trust. I haven’t been bargaining with a conditionally loving God. I am asking a loving God to be with me. Presence is all I need. This is different for me, this abbreviated prayer: be with me. My heart beats a simple desire not to have to go this alone. A surrender to the detour. An openness to life on life’s terms. A turning of the heart.

“Pooh,” whispered Piglet. “Yes, Piglet?” said Pooh. “Oh nothing,” said Piglet. “I was just making sure of you.”

Detours can be bumpy. Second chances aren’t always pretty. But they do remind us of what matters.

*This quote is attributed to both E.M. Forster and Joseph Campbell, depending where you look. I agree with the sentiment, regardless of which of these men expressed it.


Cooking is Cool with fruit burritos [A National Nutrition Month reminder]

March 25, 2015

March is coming to an end already, which means there is only about a week left of National Nutrition Month. However, the end of the month shouldn’t signal the end of healthy eating for you or the children in your care. So here are a few tips to keep you moving towards a healthy lifestyle.

  •  Focus on fruits and veggies. They should make up 2/3 of your plate at a meal
  • Choose items low in added sugars
  • Buy minimally processed forms of foods. For example, frozen berries instead of berry flavored fruit leather
  • Drink water – lots of water!
  • Eat together and when possible everyone at the table should eat the same thing.
  • Schedule meals and snacks at regular intervals. This helps maintain blood sugars (less grumpiness) and keeps everyone from getting too hungry or passing on healthy items

All of these little things will help you work towards the bigger goal of a healthy lifestyle. The other important thing you can do to help children learn about healthy eating early is to get them involved. Give children preparation tasks based on their age and skill, and let them observe what they can’t do themselves. Children will have the opportunity to learn about food preparation and cooking, and they are more likely to eat what they helped make.

Here is an easy and tasty option the kids can have their little hands on from start to finish!

Fruit burritosFruit Burritos


1 banana, sliced

4 strawberries, sliced

1 peach, pitted, peeled, and sliced

1/4 cup fresh blueberries

1 10-inch flour tortilla

1 Tbsp cream cheese

1 Tbsp vanilla yogurt


1. Slice bananas, strawberries, and the peach into small thin pieces, and set aside.

2. On a tortilla, spread approximately 1 Tbsp of cream cheese.

3. Place the sliced fruit and the whole blueberries down the center of the tortilla.

4. Drizzle 1 Tbsp of yogurt over the fruit.

5. Roll the tortilla burrito style. To shape the burrito, first fold the bottom edge of a softened tortilla up and over the filling. While holding the bottom of the tortilla over the filling, fold in the sides. Then, starting from the folded bottom edge, roll up the tortilla to encase the filling.

Makes 2 servings. Serving size 1/2 burrito.

Fun fact: The word burrito means “little donkey” in Spanish 

Recipe source: Cooking is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook by Marianne E. Dambra

Tips source: Rethinking Nutrition: Connecting Science and Practice in Early Childhood Settings by Susan Nitzke, PhD, RD;                          Dave Riley, PhD; Ann Ramminger, MS; and Georgine Jacobs, MS

Brain Awareness Week: Activities for toddlers’ growing brains

March 18, 2015

Happy brain awareness week!

Sometimes we forget that children’s brains are a work in progress. They do not think the same way as adults and we must foster their development as we help them grow and mature. In the early years a child’s brain is making trillions of connections between brain cells. Although they will build on these connections throughout the rest of their life, they will never be creating as many as they do in the first five years of life.

The experiences and interactions a child has in the early years form the basis for the initial burst in brain development. So how do you foster healthy brain development in your everyday interactions? And remember to keep your cool when it feels like you are speaking two different languages?

What follows are a few fun facts and ideas from Brain Insight Cards by Deborah McNelis.

From More to Do While I’m Two 

Read it again

What I see

Play is best

I'm not so terrible

From Play with Me While I’m Three

One for everyone

Find the color

I can help

The same or different

Help a little one grow into one smart kid with these “fun and loving brain development activities”!

What’s inside that veggie?: A discovery activity for children

March 11, 2015

As spring finally arrives and we see green begin to sprout, our minds turn to flowers, gardens, and time outdoors. Since March is also National Nutrition Month it is a great time to combine learning about gardening and fresh fruits and veggies.

What child isn’t curious about what is on the inside? That hidden part they can’t see.

This activity from Gardening with Young Children is the perfect way to introduce children to produce they might be unfamiliar with and teach them some of the basics of how plants grow.

Have fun and get a little dirty! What's Inside

What’s Inside?


•   Fruits and vegetables are made up of different parts.

•   Many fruits and vegetables have seeds on the inside.

•   Seeds come in many different sizes, shapes, and textures.


two or three kinds of fruits or vegetables with seeds


trays on which to explore produce and seeds


1.   Set out the fruits or vegetables on the table. Engage the children in a discussion about what they know about the produce so far.

 2.  Discuss what the children know about seeds. Did they plant seeds in their garden? Where do they think those seeds came from? What do they think they will find if they cut the fruits/vegetables open?

  3.  Cut the fruits/vegetables. If the produce is soft enough, the children can cut it themselves with table knives. If the produce is large or hard, the adult should use a sharp knife to cut it. Encourage the children to observe the seeds. How are the seeds alike? How are they different? What words could you use to describe the seeds?


•   Cut open a large fruit, such as a birdhouse gourd or swan neck gourd. For this task, the children can use woodworking tools, such as a hammer. Be sure they wear goggles while attempting to open the gourd. They will first make a small hole in the gourd, and further work with the hammer should make the hole bigger. Soon they should be able to get seeds and pulp out of the gourd.

•   If you have seed packets, compare the seeds the children find in the fruits and vegetables with the seeds in the packets for those plants. Are they similar?

You can find more fun gardening activities in Gardening with Young Children by Sara Starbuck, Marla Olthof, and Karen Midden.

Enjoy spring!

From the Redleaf Kitchen: Zucchini-Oatmeal Cookies

March 4, 2015

Happy National Nutrition Month!

Good nutrition is important year round, but this month is a great time of year for a little reminder to eat healthy. After spending all winter cooped up and all of the holidays eating treats and comfort food it is time to get back to treating our bodies right. This month is a great time to introduce and reinforce healthy habits in children as well. As an early childhood professional you play an important role in helping children establish nutritious eating habits for life. You serve as a role model of healthy habits and provide them the information they need to begin understanding how to live a healthy life.

Helping children learn healthy eating habits should be fun and tasty for everyone involved, so we wanted to share this veggie packed treat to get you started . . .

zucchini oatmeal cookies

Zucchini-Oatmeal Cookies

From the Early Sprouts Cookbook

Whole grain flour and oats, canola oil, and zucchini make these cookies a healthy variation of a favorite snack. 


1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour

2 cups rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup canola oil

2 Tablespoons low-fat plain yogurt

1 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini

3/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)

Nonstick cooking spray


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. In large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir until evenly combined.

3. In medium bowl, combine oil, yogurt, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk until well combined. Then gently fold in shredded zucchini.

4. Create well in middle of dry ingredients and slowly add wet ingredients. Stir until evenly combined. If using, gently fold in dried cranberries.

5. Lightly coat cookie sheets with cooking spray.

6. Drop dough onto cookie sheets, using teaspoon. Space cookies about 2 inches apart, making 20 cookies.

7. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

8. Allow to cool and enjoy.

Yield: 20 cookies

Nutrition information

Serving size: 1 cookie

Per serving: 150 calories, 4 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 14 g sugars, 3 g protein, and 30 mg sodium

Fun fact: The word cookie comes from an old Dutch word meaning “little cake”

Enjoy your delicious and nutritious cookies!

Giants in the Nursery: A game of who said it

February 25, 2015

David Elkind’s new book, Giants in the Nursery, tells the stories of the “giants” of early childhood education. These brilliant men and women helped create the theories and advance the ideas that are now know as DAP: Developmentally Appropriate Practice.

This new book brings the history of the giants and DAP to life in a way that shows the thread of historical and conceptual continuity that is often overlooked when discussing the individual schools of practice. It is a fascinating look at how we got from the concept of education as only males learning reading, writing, math, singing and culture, to Maria Montessori’s fight against sexism to become the first female physician in Italy, to the idea of child psychology and development as a field of practice.

From their hardships and wisdom came several gems of inspiration. Can you guess who said each one?

Giants in the Nursery

“The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.”

  Heinrich Pestalozzi – Fredrick Froebel – John Locke

“Receive the children in reverence; education them in love; let them go forth in freedom.”

Rudolf Steiner  –  Erik Erikson  –  Jean Jacques Rousseau

“A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions he has acquired.”

Jean Piaget  –  Maria Montesorri  –  Lev Vygotsky

“There is in every child at every stage a new miracle of vigorous unfolding, which constitutes a new hope and a new responsibility to all.”

 Fredrick Froebel  –  Erik Erikson  –  Sigmund Freud

Find out the correct answers and see even more words of wisdom on our Pinterest Wise Words board!

The STEM series: Introduction to basics

February 11, 2015

s.t.e.m. ICONWe’ve been hearing from our readers and educators about how much they love STEM and are trying to incorporate it into their classrooms and lessons. The four STEM disciplines are often considered staples in elementary, middle, and high school curriculum, but the early years are a great time to introduce children to the exciting world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Young children have a natural sense of curiosity. They build knowledge of the world as they explore and experiment.

We recently talked with Sally Moomaw, EdD, who has dedicated much of her research and work to STEM education. She’s the author of Teaching STEM in the Early Years which provides more than 85 engaging, developmentally appropriate activities to maximize children’s learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

To help students connect math and science to other contexts in their world Dr. Moomaw believes you should keep four teaching practices in mind as you build your curriculum.

  1. Intentional teaching: Always keep math and science goals in mind when designing activities and curriculum.
  2. Teach for understanding: Learning isn’t about reciting rules from memory. You want students to understand the concepts and connect them to real world experiences.
  3. Encourage inquiry: Math and science are subjects built on asking questions, hypothesizing, and recognizing the relationships. Make children comfortable exploring and questioning.
  4. Provide real-world contexts: Children can understand even complex ideas when you connect them to their real life. Turn trips outside into science lessons or blocks into an engineering lesson. They want to understand their world you just have to help them make the connections.

With these principles in mind, Dr. Moomaw shared three tips that you can use to help create a more STEM-friendly learning environment.

  1. Try to make every moment a STEM learning opportunity. No matter where you are in the classroom, there is an opportunity to focus children’s attention on something interesting related to math or science.
  2. Follow children’s ideas. If your goal was to plant seeds but children suddenly become fascinated with earthworms, follow their lead.
  3. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what you don’t know. Teachers and children can and should be co-investigators.

Each month we will be sharing a STEM activity as part of our STEM series to get you inspired for activities in your own room.

Tell us: What do you want to like about STEM? How do you already use it in your classroom?

Qualities of leadership: Inspiration and ideas

February 5, 2015

Did you set New Year’s resolutions? Have you already broken them? This time of year seems to be the time to evaluate our values and who we want to be in this New Year. Many of us have a desire to make a difference, connect more deeply, and invest in a better future by becoming a better leader.

Maurice Sykes, educator and author, has been in the same place and taken the journey to being a leader and is inspiring others to do the same. As Maurice says:

We each are a composite of what we believe, how we understand things, and the actions we take. As a leader, it is critical that your core values – your guiding principles – inform your leadership beliefs, thoughts, and actions.

Everyone has a core set of values. It is important for you to identify and articulate your core values to yourself and be aware of how they influence your thoughts words, and deeds.

Doing the Right Thing for Children: Eight Qualities of Leadership  

So what are your core values and where are they leading you? If you aren’t sure yet or need a place to start, here are Maurice’s recommendation:

  1. Belief in human potential: Recognize potential in others, both children and adults. Believe that there are no limits to a person’s potential with the right coaching, mentoring, and support. Have your eyes open to spot the hidden gifts inside others and nurture them into greatness.
  2. A love for knowledge: Have a hunger for knowledge and curiosity about a wide range of subjects. Desire to know           more. Knowledge helps you understand the world around you, but also creates the self-knowledge needed to build       strong relationships.
  3. Belief in social justice: “Be a mediator between the circumstances where one starts in life and where one ends”             (Sykes,14). Believe in equality and strive to create a place where everyone can have a voice.
  4. Competence: Take your knowledge and put it into action. Have the confidence in your own potential and knowledge     to create action towards goals that serve a greater good.
  5. Have fun: Lead with energy and enthusiasm and always remember to practice humility. As Maurice says “a broken spirit cannot lift another broken spirit”. Work should be fun and enjoyable; if it isn’t is it really worth doing? Value play not only for the children you work with, but for yourself and the adults in your life.
  6. Practice personal renewal: If you are worn out you cannot be effective at anything. Understand your own need for renewal physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually through simple enjoyment. Step away from time to time so you can bring your full self when you return.
  7. Believe in perseverance: Success rarely comes quickly and easily. If you have long-term goals you know you will face bumps in the road. Don’t’ give up and keep the vision of your goal in mind. The journey may not always be easy, but you will learn and grow as you go.
  8. Have courage: Know the mission and be willing to take bold steps for that purpose. There will be tough choices and you must be able to face them head on; even when that means taking responsibility for your actions.

You can find out more about these eight qualities and how to develop habits for becoming a better leader in Maurice Sykes’ new book Doing the Right Thing for Children. We are inspired to be better for ourselves and for those around us . . . what are you inspired to do?


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