Toddler Rule #1: Dump Everything, picture of child dumping sand from a bucket

First Baptist Preschool has been a steady presence in the Charlottesville early childhood scene for decades.  Their early childhood educators have an average of ten years of experience working with children.  They were one of the first preschools to join the Virginia Quality Initiative in 2008, when it was a pilot program.  Still, every fall, before their students come back to school, they set up a training with the Growing Minds program at ReadyKids.

“I think if you don’t have trainings you get a little stale,” said Ann Easton, Director of First Baptist.

But this time, Easton put out a challenge to the Growing Minds trainer, Stephanie Massie.  Prior to her role at ReadyKids, Massie had been both a childcare center director and a preschool teacher.  Easton felt confident she could handle a challenge.

“I don’t want it to be boring,” Easton said. “I want shock value.  I want wow factor.”

Massie thought about that for a while.  How do you add shock value and wow factor to a training on developmentally appropriate curriculum? It seemed an impossible task.

Then, she remembered something she had heard from Eddie Harris, the Fatherhood Specialist at REAL Dads, another ReadyKids program.

“Stop being a resource.  The answers are in the room already.”

Instead of lecturing on child development, Massie decided to capitalize on the strengths of these already experienced teachers.  She started her session with two questions.

The first, “What do you want to see from the kids you teach?”

And the second, “What do you NOT want to see from the kids you teach?”

The answers were predictable.  The teachers wanted to see listening, engagement and wonder.  They didn’t want to see toy dumping, tattling or defiance.

Kids Do Well if They Can

Massie handed them the “Milestones of Child Development” book, a standardized tool for Virginia early childhood educators to help align a child’s developmental needs with what they’re being taught in preschool.  After they looked over the book, Massie showed a video by Ross Greene, a child psychologist, who says, “Kids do well if they can.”

“’Kids do well if they can’ is only a life shattering philosophy if you consider the more prevalent philosophy, ‘Kids do well if they wanna,’” said Ross Greene.  “But consider this, ‘Why would a kid not want to do well?’”

Massie turned to the two-year-old teachers, a notoriously difficult age to teach, and said, “So, what can a two-year-old child do well right now?”

The teachers turned to the section for physical development of children 18-months to 36-months and found this sentence, “fill a container with small objects and dump them out repeatedly.”

Legos scattered on a hard wood floor

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

The teachers looked up a bit sheepishly.  Dumping toys, a behavior they didn’t want to see in kids, was exactly what two-year-olds can do well.

“We found that’s something that child must need,” said Easton.  “Just think about all the feedback [a child] gets if he dumps a box of Legos on a tile floor.”

Massie then stood up in front of the group, lifted a big container of balls above her head and flipped it over – dumping the balls and sending them bouncing around the classroom.

“You could see the discomfort immediately,” said Massie.  “I invited them to try dumping things themselves.”

Each teacher practiced dumping their own bucket of toys and reflecting on what the satisfaction was – hearing the sounds the toys made when they hit the ground, the physical input of going from heavy to light, and the feeling of success after persistence. Then, as a group, they talked about what annoyed them about dumping toys as adults, and how to remedy the situation.

“If the noise is what bothers you,” said Easton, “let’s think of ways you can give [a child] a way to dump without the noise.”

Focusing on Strengths

Children lift sticks in the air as teacher plays guitar.After that, Massie felt like the teachers gave their own training.  They began looking up each of the “bad” behaviors in the Child Development book.  Tattling.  Preschoolers are learning to “demonstrate progress in expressing needs and opinions by using words and asking for help when needed.” Defiance. Preschoolers are learning to “demonstrate the ability to initiate activities.”

“I could physically see the dots connecting above their heads,” said Massie. “I was in a zone with stars in my eyes.  It was in that moment I realized that I got the wow factor.”

Massie had been giving trainings for years, trying to emphasize that usually ‘bad’ behaviors are ‘developmental’ behaviors.  But the wisdom to stop being a resource and let the people in the room find the answers themselves changed the conversation.

“Allowing us to come up with different ways of handling things in the classroom always makes an impact,” said Easton. “We just love working with ReadyKids.”

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We are excited to announce that the program previously known as Child Care Quality will be transitioning to be known as Growing Minds! 


Here’s the thought process behind the change:

  • The term “child care” does not accurately capture the diversity of all the early care and learning programs ReadyKids serves. We also partner with child development centers, preschool programs in public elementary schools, corporate and university-based centers, faith-based preschools, Head Start, family day homes, and other specialized learning programs.
  • “Child care” diminishes the valuable work of early childhood educators.  Children are learning all the time, in every environment.   We recognize early childhood educators as professionals, tasked with preparing children for school and life success.  Terminology matters.
  • “Growing Minds” reflects both the growth that early childhood educators experience to change their practices (their minds have to expand to assimilate new information and skills), and the impact on the children. Productive play and high quality interactions with adults actually grow children’s minds!

Growing Minds will continue to offer the same services improving the quality of early child-care and preschool settings by offering coaching, training and support to early childhood teachers and directors.  We hope that you will practice saying the new name with us!

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When you decide you want to volunteer with kids, we know there are lots of options in and around Charlottesville.  Why choose Play Partners over something else?  Play Partners teachings preschool-age kids literacy skills, active listening and focus through play and story-telling together.  We’re a little biased, but we think it’s the best volunteer gig in town.  Here’s ten reasons why volunteering with Play Partners is an experience you’ll love.

10.  Two is better than one

At Play Partners, you’ll never be left on your own to figure things out.  You will always be paired with a more experienced volunteer to guide you through the day.  “This is my first year.  I feel like I had a huge learning curve, but I feel better at the end than I did at the beginning, thanks to my [volunteer partner],” said one Play Partners volunteer.

9.  Following the children’s lead

While the Play Partners staff will always give you lots of ideas for leading a session, there is also room to bring your own ideas and follow the children’s interests.  “It’s fun to hear children use words like ‘dozing,’ which is certainly learned from a book we had read,” said a Play Partner volunteer.

8.  On the school schedule

You’ll always have summer and holidays off, which is perfect for a parent with kids in school or college.

7. Substitutes available

If you go on vacation, have surgery, or just don’t feel well, there are substitutes available to cover for you.

6. Manageable time commitment

A typical Play Partners session is an hour long, once a week.  Add in another thirty minutes to an hour for planning and preparation, and you’re donating about two hours a week of your time to preschoolers in Charlottesville.

Those small hours add up.  Last year, Play Partners’ 26 volunteers donated over 1,059 hours to ReadyKids.

5. Hilarious, adorable kids

You get to spend time with, and build relationships with, sweet, funny, creative 3 to 5-year-olds in family and professional day care centers who are at risk of falling behind their peers in school.  “It is obvious these 4-year-olds do not have the vocabulary and number skills of my 4-year-old granddaughter,” said one Play Partners volunteer. “Our sessions help to make up the inequality.” Last year, Play Partners served over 100 children at eight child care providers around Charlottesville.

4. Awesome volunteer management staff

Christy and Ali, the Play Partners volunteer management staff, are nurturing and caring.  They will answer any questions you have, support and guide you through each week.  “Everyone at ReadyKids is so appreciative and pamper us!” said one Play Partner volunteer. “The art supply closet was wonderfully stocked with essentials and new fun things to try.”

3. Free trainings

The Play Partners program provides structured, ongoing trainings including how to support reading development, building brains, teaching movement activities, and helping children through transitions.

2. Book love

You’re helping kids to learn to love books, and to build their own home library.  Each month, each kid in the classroom you work with will get to take home a copy of the book you taught them that month. Last year, the Play Partners program gave away 1,027 books.

1. Building a new generation

Play Partners builds literacy skills in kids.  “One of the things I love about Play Partners is that we are trying to make an impact on the kids while they are still young,” said Ali Davidson, Play Partners Assistant. “We are trying to catch these kids before the gap widens and they head down a path that is irreversible.” 86% of children who participate in the Play Partners program demonstrate post-test emergent literacy skills as evidenced by scoring at or above age level for vocabulary.  Literacy skills are tied to a longer, healthier life.  In addition, poor reading skills are linked to teen pregnancy, substance abuse, incarceration, and welfare dependence.  Helping to bridge the achievement gap to children arrive at school at the same level as their peers has a lifelong impact.

Tell me more about Play Partners! Sign me up! I want to volunteer!

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When you’re small, emotions like anger and fear can feel huge.  And scary.

One of our STAR Kids Educators, Loretta Willis, was recently in a Head Start class presenting a lesson called, “When Someone’s Mad – But Not at you.” A puppet named Keisha talked about how her Mom and Dad argued.  After they finished arguing, Keisha’s Mom started yelling at her. Keisha didn’t know what she had done wrong.

“At this point, a child in the class started crying,” said Willis.

At first Willis thought maybe the child was hurt, or in a disagreement with another child.

As Willis tried to figure out what made the girl cry, the Head Start teacher said, “this hits home for her.”

The teacher moved to sit beside the girl and helped her calm down.

Willis continued the lesson.

“I asked the class, ‘what could you do if adults are arguing and you need to get out of the way or find a safe place to go?’” said Willis.

 

The child who had been crying was now calm.  She raised her hand and shared with the class.

“Grandma lives next door. I go there when Mom and Dad are arguing.”

“This four-year-old child, not only had a plan when things got scary at home, she had the confidence and words to verbalize it to the class,” said Willis.

Through the tools the girl had learned through STAR Kids, she knew how to recognize and process fear without acting out in negative ways, a key goal of social-emotional learning.

How STAR Kids Works

Research has shown that children’s ability to effectively manage their full range of emotions—also known as self-regulation—is one of the most important factors for success in school, work and relationships throughout their lives.  The ReadyKids STAR Kids Program empowers at-risk children with these critical self-regulation skills.

The program’s main tool is three puppets and the Al’s Pals curriculum.  The Al’s Pals curriculum shows statistically significant improvements in positive, helpful behaviors and social independence.

The puppets – Al, Ty and Keisha – talk together in 46 different 10-to-15-minute lessons about anything from avoiding tobacco to using kind words.  The lessons give real-life application of the concepts of resilience and peaceful problem solving.

It’s just one way ReadyKids helps get kids ready for school, ready for relationships and ultimately ready for life.

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It’s 8 p.m. on a dark, rainy Thursday night in October. Eighteen men and women of all ages and races gather in the Education Center of ReadyKids in Charlottesville.  They all have one thing in common – they watch other people’s children for a living.  They are tired from working a full day.  One drinks a large soda to stay awake.  Another loudly clicks a pen while blinking her eyes and yawning.  Despite their exhaustion they’ve come to this Child Development Associate (CDA) class to improve their skills.

“I was thinking it was going to be common sense material, but actually coming and doing the modules I’ve learned to professionally grow as a better teacher,” said Cheri Paschall, a 3-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center.  “I’ve learned that free play is a better way of learning, and by doing this I’ve found more confidence in myself.”

The ReadyKids Child Care Quality program provides a free CDA class to child care providers in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area or for those whose employers enrolled in Virginia Quality.  It’s a rigorous 13 module program that is self-paced and teaches about everything from effective behavior management to how to plan a healthy meal a child will eat.

“This is a very good resource for people who want to do better, want to be better,” said Ayana Alexander, a 2-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center.

Though the average salary for an early childhood educator in Virginia is around $20,000 – about the same amount as the Federal Poverty Level for a family of 3 – for these men and women their jobs are more than just a paycheck.  They are building Charlottesville’s future.

When asked, “how does your work contribute to the future of Charlottesville?” their passion and professionalism come through.

“With everything that’s going on lately, it’s had people on edge … There are a lot of kids who sadly don’t have the same opportunity to love and grow and feel like they’re in a nurtured environment where they know they are safe, they’re loved and they can be themselves.  Even though they’re two-years-old right now, they will carry with them the thought that, ‘I’m somebody, I’m important, I can be cared for, I can be what I want to be when I grow up.’  I feel it when I walk in the door.”
Ayana Alexander, 2-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center

 

“We give them the tools to learn. We give them the hunger to learn. We give them the permission to learn. Yes, it’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to make messes. It’s okay to tear things apart and put them back together … if we don’t stretch their brains now there is not going to be very much to stretch later.”
Katherine Cashatt, Toddler teacher at Covesville Child Development Center

 

“We provide them with the information, the care, the love, the support that they need to become the little people they are growing up to be.  Without that love, care and support then they might not see that if they weren’t learning it at day care.”
Brittani Collier, Preschool teacher at UVA Child Development Center

 

“I am partnering with my parents and we are trying to provide an environment for these precious little beings to become healthy, independent, contributing individuals to their families, communities and society at large through our loving, nurturing and stimulating environment for them to grow up and build their self esteem, so they can provide that for others.”
– Vanessa Coles, Infant & Toddler In-Home Child Care Provider

 

“I feel like I have a good impact on the children that I teach.  When they get older what I’ve taught them can help them have a bright future. I give them the opportunity to explore more, let them have a say in lesson planning to drive what their interests are.  They can feel that they are important in the classroom.”
Cheri Paschall, 3-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center

 

Help ReadyKids continue to improve the quality of Early Childhood Education in the Charlottesville community. Though the CDA class is paid for with grant money, many students can’t afford the books required.  $95 pays for a full set of books for an adult CDA student.

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The ReadySteps program would love to add the following books to their collection to use during our early learning playgroups.  Used copies are welcome!  If you have one of these books to share, please contact Shannon Banks, sbanks@readykidscville.com

 

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PEERWe bet you (or someone you know) spends a lot of time reading to little ones. But are you getting the most out of those shared moments? Do you ask your child questions? Prompt a response? Repeat your words? If you’ve answered yes to any of those questions, then you’re already halfway there!

Dialogic reading is an evidence-based system, currently being piloted by our Play Partners program, which brings kids deeper into the learning experience. According to the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse, dialogic reading interventions have positive effects on oral language. Through this method, children are prompted to contribute to their own learning process, to become the storyteller. It’s all about engaging and interacting–and it works! So, next time you read to your preschooler, why not try out the PEER sequence yourself?

1. Prompt your child to say something about the book,
2. Evaluate your child’s response,
3. Expand your child’s response by rephrasing and adding information to it, and
4. Repeat the prompt to make sure your child has learned from the expansion!

Already an expert at reading to little ones? Click here to get involved in our Play Partners program.

 

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