Why Parent Engagement is more than a buzz word

Parent engagement is a hot topic in early childhood education and for good reason. The definition of parenting is different now than it was even a few years ago and that means it is an ever-evolving issue for educators. Parent with child

One of our newest books, Parent Engagement in Early Learning, tackles the topic head on and provides educators some great strategies for working with families of all kinds.

So, why is it so important to work with families?

Sometimes we see the need to work well with parents as just one more demand on teachers. Aren’t children the most important focus of our work? Why should we dilute our efforts and focus on parents as well?

Because it’s the best thing for children. Working with families is important because, simply put, it’s the best thing for the children. Children gain the most from their early education experience when a partnership exists between teachers and families. When we, as teachers, have a positive impact on the whole family and affect how they interact with their children, we make a contribution that will last a lifetime.

Because we have a lot to offer parents. As early childhood education (ECE) professionals, we have special insight into the needs and interests of young children. When we work with parents, we can help them differentiate between issues that are related to general development and issues that are specific to their children. We can help them keep their expectations age appropriate and offer families solutions to struggles they may be having with their children.

Because parents have a lot to offer us. We need to work with families because parents know their children well— and they can help us find the strategies to best teach their children. They know their children’s preferences and abilities and are able to read their children’s feelings. Our jobs will be easier in partnership with parents.

Excerpt from Parent Engagement in Early Learning, 2nd Edition, Redleaf Press, 2016

Now that you see how important it is to work with families, are you ready? This short quiz can give you a good idea of where you are starting from.

Attitudes and beliefs play a strong role in our ability to create partnerships.

1. Most parents want what is best for their children.
• True     • Somewhat true        • Not true

2. If parents don’t agree with me, one of us does not have to be wrong.
• True       • Somewhat true        • Not true

3. Children benefit from communication and collaboration between their parents and teachers.
• True       • Somewhat true       • Not true

4. My job is more enjoyable because of my interactions with parents.
• True        • Somewhat true       • Not true

5. Parents can offer me insight about their children that will help me do a better job.
• True         • Somewhat true       • Not true

6. I can think beyond my own preferences and convenience to benefit children and  parents.
• True         • Somewhat true       • Not true

7. Parents are entitled to the final say in their children’s care and education.
• True         • Somewhat true       • Not true

8. I am willing to change routines and practices if doing so works better for children and parents.
• True          • Somewhat true      • Not true

9. I grow as a professional through interaction with parents.
• True           • Somewhat true     • Not true

How did you do? Your reactions to these questions can reveal some of your feelings that may help or hinder your relationships with parents.

If you answered “True” to most questions, you understand the value of parent- teacher partnerships and are ready to get better at them.

If you answered “Somewhat true” to most questions, you demonstrate interest in creating partnerships with parents but often keep your conflicting attitudes in mind. As you find yourself reacting negatively to parents’ actions, push yourself to think from their perspectives.

If you answered “Not true” to most questions, you may have attitudes and beliefs that will interfere with building partnerships. Viewing parents as adversaries, problems, or a waste of your time will hold you back from improving your interactions with parents. As you read the following chapters, listen to the voices of parents and see if you can shift your thinking.

Excerpt from Parent Engagement in Early Learning, 2nd Edition, Redleaf Press, 2016

Check out the new edition of Parent Engagement in Early Learning to find out how to get ready, how to work well with families, and how to get the most out of these partnerships so children thrive.

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Keeping your professional New Year’s resolutions

We are two weeks into the New Year already. Are you still keeping your resolutions? Or perhaps you still need to make a few.

Did you also make resolutions for your business or career in the New Year? Here are a few of the most popular professional resolutions and a few resources to help you keep them.

Financial health

The beginning of the year is when most people start thinking about taxes and financially planning for the year ahead. Early childhood education can be a complicated financial picture, especially if you run your own business.

A few resources to reduce the stress, keep you organized, and get you thinking about what you can do to improve for the year ahead:

Healthy eating

As an early childhood educator, you have the opportunity to teach young children about healthy habits that will help them throughout life. The best way to teach others is to model the behavior yourself and make it fun – teaching them to eat healthy can help you stick to your health resolutions too.

Make healthy eating tasty, enjoyable, and fun.

Rethinking nutritionRethinking Nutrition

Connect the science of nutrition to classroom practices. Aligned with MyPlate, each chapter also provides a series of examples that bring nutrition principles to life in early childhood settings.


Cooking is CoolCooking is Cool

More than 50 heat-free recipes packed with flavor and learning. As children read recipes, measure ingredients, and taste each dish, they build math and literacy skills, practice science process skills, and explore different food groups.


Garden HeroesGarden Heroes Activities

Packed full of nutrition education information and education-rich activities to make learning about healthy eating fun. Kid friendly recipes, fun trivia, and lots of activities across the curriculum.

Early Sprouts


Early Sprouts & The Early Sprouts Cookbook

A complete gardening and nutrition curriculum including tips for planting a garden, suggestions for involving children’s families, and recipes that children can help prepare.


5 minute fruit and veggies

5 Minute Fruit and Vegetable Activities

Quick, easy, and effective activities to fill extra minutes of class time. Divided into three different age levels, this collection of short activities is perfect for preschool, elementary, and middle/high school aged students. 


5 minute preschoolers

5 Minute Nutrition Activities for Preschoolers

Introduce, reinforce, and review lessons on nutrition with 50 classroom-tested activities. Each activity is a creative and fun learning experience for children. 


Revamp your care environment

Have you or the children gotten bored with the current environment? Maybe it is time to rethink and redesign your space. Design can play a huge role in engagement, enjoyment, and transitions.

Whether starting from scratch, redesigning an existing space, or taking it outdoors . . .


What are your 2016 goals and how are you getting there? Good luck!


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A letter from the publisher

Dear Friends of Redleaf Press,

As 2015 comes to a close, I’d like to reflect a little on this year and what it has meant to all of us here at Redleaf. It has been a terrific year.

First of all, I want to thank each of you for supporting Redleaf, and I don’t mean just buying books from us. I mean the support I feel when I’m at a conference and someone comes up to me and thanks Redleaf for publishing books that help transform the lives of children and teachers. I am overwhelmed sometimes by the number of people who consider us as a partner in the work they do with children. We work hard to deserve and maintain your trust.

We produced twenty-nine new products in 2015, which included books for educators and caregivers, tools to help families understand what and why teachers and providers do what they do, children’s picture books, card sets with great ideas about transitions, and DVDs that provide engaging information for early childhood professionals.

We’ve added a number of people to our growing family of Redleaf authors this year. Some of those new authors had their first book published by Redleaf, while others were writing their second or third book, but the first from Redleaf. Some of our new authors are nationally recognized experts in early childhood education, child development, and psychology. It is a privilege to work with people with such passion and knowledge. We are thrilled that all of these people chose Redleaf to be their publisher.

Our children’s imprint—Redleaf Lane—continues to grow and receive recognition. In the last couple of years, we’ve published ten new children’s picture books. Each of the books is based on social-emotional challenges that all children face. The books encourage problem solving. They help children learn to deal with their own emotions and to develop empathy for others. As we develop each of these books, I absolutely fall in love with the characters and share their hopes and dreams.

I’ve worked in educational publishing for over thirty years with eight of those years at Redleaf Press. I have been very lucky to have worked with smart, creative, wonderful people my entire career, but I’ve never worked with a group as terrific as the folks I work with at Redleaf. They are committed to our mission, and they inspire me every day. I often tell people that working here is the “cherry and whipped cream” on the top of my publishing career. I am so proud to be part of this organization and believe so strongly about the importance of the work we do and in the work we help support.

You may be surprised to know that Redleaf Press is a nonprofit publisher. We are a division of Think Small, a large nonprofit that serves educators, providers, children, and families. Think Small works to strengthen families through child care referrals and financial assistance, catalyze change through advocacy and policy work, and prepare providers through training, coaching, community outreach, and publishing (that’s us!). The revenue Redleaf generates from selling products supports the work Think Small does here in Minnesota. So not only do our books help you as you teach and interact with young children, but your purchase also goes on to help support additional children. That’s a real win-win situation if you ask me, and what could be better than that?

We’re looking forward to another great year of publishing. There are about thirty new publications that will be coming out in 2016. Each of those products is designed to help you grow as an educator. Redleaf will continue to provide exceptional resources for early childhood professionals.

Happy New Year from Redleaf Press!

Warm regards,

davidheath copy



David Heath

Director of Redleaf Press

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Teaching children about the season of giving

This is known as the “season of giving”, but for many children it feels more like the “season of receiving”. With all the celebrating and gift giving people can forget to be thankful and show a little gratitude.

This holiday season take the opportunity to put the focus back on having fun and connecting with each other.

Have children make gifts for people they love. Put out the supplies and let their creative minds and little hands go to work.

loose parts fun

Just a few great ideas from Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children :)

Source: Loose Parts, 2014, Redleaf Press

Another option is to have children make gifts for people in need. Discussing with children that not everyone has a place to go or receives a lot for the holidays can help them learn about being thankful for what they have. In Celebrate! An Anti-Bias Guide to Enjoying Holidays in Early Childhood Programs, Julie Bisson offers the idea of having each child discuss gift giving at their house so they can see how not everyone does it the same. “This may be particularly important f the families in your program can’t afford or don’t choose to provide the kind of holidays portrayed in the media and some books”, notes the author.

Or you could take the gifts out of the equation all together and talk to them about the other things they do to celebrate – where they visit, who they see, what they eat, special stories their family tells.

The most important way you can make this the “season of giving” is to model gratitude and thankfulness for the children in your care. What are you grateful for this holiday season?


Provide other ideas you have for sharing the “season of giving” with children in the comments. Spread the cheer and tell us what you are grateful for!

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Are you celebrating Human Rights Day?

Did you know December 10th is Human Rights Dayhrd_english

In fact, 2015 kicks off a year-long campaign in celebration of the 50th anniversary of two international treaties that shaped the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What does this have to do with early childhood education? It is never too early to start teaching children about their basic rights and how to respect the rights of other people. To give you an idea of how to approach the topic with children, we asked a few of our authors how they incorporate human rights education into their classrooms.

Julie Bisson, author of Celebrate! An Anti-Bias Guide to Enjoying Holidays in Early Childhood Programs, approaches the topic of human rights similar to other anti-bias topics. She uses the four goals of anti-bias education as a guide:

  1. To foster a positive self-identity within the context of a group identity.
  2. To facilitate knowledgeable, empathic interactions with people who are different from oneself.
  3. To foster critical thinking about bias.
  4. To help children stand up for themselves and others in the face of bias.

(Source: Celebrate! An Anti-Bias Guide to Enjoying Holidays in Early Childhood Programs, 1997, Redleaf Press)

FriendshipStart the conversation with what the children know about the topic such as what they feel is fair and unfair. Build on that by discussing how actions can make other people feel and perhaps how they can help make sure others aren’t treated unfairly.

The author of The Kindness Curriculum, Second Edition: Stop Bullying Before it Starts, Judith Rice, also recommends putting the children themselves at the center of the topic. Starting with two building blocks – respect and kindness – parents, teachers, and child care providers can introduce children to the concept of human rights. Judith recommends teaching children about basic emotions and how to express them appropriately so they can better understand peer’s emotions. She also teaches the children in her care how to create boundaries by encouraging them to stand up for themselves in a respectful way and practice asking for help.

How are you celebrating Human Rights Day and teaching the next generation about these “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” that make up “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”?

(Preamble of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, United Nations)


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Happy Thanksgiving from Redleaf Press



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We point to our heart

quote for blogAsk a child to point to herself. Where does her index finger land?

If you or I were to point to ourselves, we would likely place our hand on the  same destination as that child.

We point not to our forehead, not to our stomach, not to our ear or our other hand. We point to our heart.

I point to my heart because that’s where I live. I live through my heart. I see the world through my heart. I breathe through my heart. I listen to people with my heart. Heart to heart conversations are, for me, timeless, precious. “Your vision becomes clear only when you can look deeply into your own heart.” (Carl Jung).

I point to my heart because I “take heart” when a child smiles. I am “heartened” when I am in the presence of kindness and beauty.

Often I “wear my heart on my sleeve.”

We know we are approaching truth when our actions are “heartfelt”, when we open our heart, when our “heart is touched” by someone’s love, when we have faith to “harden not our hearts”.

We long to get to the “heart of the matter”. We feel “heartbroken” when we are hurt and heartache when we lose a person we love. My heart broke when I lost my sister Karen on May 26th. In so many ways, we identify our true selves with what is in our hearts.

We educators also go to school and more school and more and more school to educate our minds, empower them with knowledge, broaden them with theories and research, deepen them with insight and perspective. And, in the end (as in the beginning) we find our true self in our heart. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou’s heart reminds us.

We are our hearts. So, we need to tend to and care for our hearts as much as we pursue knowledge because if that big bear of a muscle fails, we have nothing left.

Do you tend to and care for your heart? John Donahue tended his heat when he made decisions to “waste his heart on fear no more”. Does he speak for you?

He does for me.

the surgery team

The surgical team

Two week ago, I tended to my heart. I chose to surrender my heart to four and one-half hours of flat-on-my-back surgery. Such surgical tending was necessary for my heart to beat effectively.



The surgery failed. I did not.

I faced my tigers above, tigers below, and tigers within, those clawsome forces that can ignite PTSD flashbacks, and addle me with panic so strong I want to run away. I did not run.

I did the opposite. I shared my fears. I asked for help. I admitted deep vulnerability. I owned my disability, PTSD. The surgery failed. I did not.

The surgery failed. My surgeon did not. Dr. Robotis and his team worked competently, intricately, and diligently to make things right. About thirty percent of the time, heart ablation surgery doesn’t work. When that happens, the surgery needs to be repeated, sometimes more than twice or three times. One colleague tells me a friend required nine surgeries. Another colleague knows a doctor whose heart didn’t heal until the fifth surgery.

So, I ask: What is the deeper message, the second, third, or ninth chance when something we need fails us? You’ve faced disappointments, loss, failures. What does your heart tell you about loss?

I do not love the saying: One step forward; two steps backward. I do not love victim status. I love my life’s unfolding adventure. Today, I feel more confident facing the unknown. Of course, I may still get scared. Terrified. Tigers can circle with neon eyes. Some hearts take a lifetime to heal.

Today, as I just begin to understand this pothole in my pathway, I make choices. I chose to:

  • See my heart as a metaphor, an emblem of the truth, of deeper understanding;
  • Acknowledge generations of heart disease in my family, much of which was incurable at the time or too frightening for ancestors to face;
  • View heart disease itself as a metaphor. Mine is a family of heartbreak, mental illness and hidden abuse, none of which we are supposed to name.
  • Accept the gift I am given: As my heart heals, my actions can begin to reverse the cycles of heartache handed down through generations.

When I was a child wounded by my parents’ abuse, I learned from my older sister, Karen, to swallow my grief to avoid, “If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about”. Karen modeled for me my family’s “grin and bear it” motto. Even then, I walked my own pathway, using words, writing my parents: “You are choking my heart”.

I believe my parents, their parents, and generations tracing back to island nations scared by warfare lived as best they could. Who would want to pass cruelty and disease onto their children? I love my parents; they did the best they could.

Now the work is mine: as I face this 2nd, 5th, ninth chance to breathe freely, to walk with a stride, to swim without fear of breathlessness, I am grateful.

I may never love surgery. I may never love facing emotional flashbacks. I may never love the possibility that my heart could remain wounded until the end of my days. I can love the hope that comes from having done my best. I can love the belief that the healing I seek will help others. I do love walking alongside my tigers, rather than running from them.

Poets and sages tell the truth in a deeper way than facts and figures:

  • Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince knows: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
  • Thich Nhat Hanh notes: “The amount of happiness that you have depends on the amount of freedom you have in your heart”.
  • Martin Luther King reflects: “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart”.

My task is to listen more fully, to hear and one day better understand the “inaudible language” of my heart. Yes, I will revel at the NAEYC conference this week, pacing myself to be kind to my heart. Yes, I will fly solo to discover Sri Lanka the next week, and join a small group adventure to the “Soul of India” in the weeks that follow. Yes I will celebrate my seventieth birthday New Year’s Eve with authentic gratitude. And yes, I will waste my heart on fear no more.

May we “do at last what we came here for”: claim our birthright to wonder and joy.

Apple picking one week post surg

Enjoying life post-surgery

~ Holly Elissa Bruno

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