Thursday, March 2, 2017

Building Critical Thinking


Critical thinking at it's core includes: clarifying goals, examining assumptions, discerning hidden values, evaluating evidence, accomplishing actions and assessing conclusions. That sounds massive and weighty but it is much more fluid. Most professions integrate components of critical thinking and much of our current education process incorporates critical thinking opportunities. However, building critical thinking skills can start long before children enter school. Parents and nannies can play a huge role in building those skills.

Children with strong critical thinking skills are typically more resilient and are able to manage stress better. They have a confidence in their abilities and are not overwhelmed when things don't go their way. Overall they have a more positive outlook on life. A child's personality has a lot to do with how they see the world, but every child can benefit from building skills. They are already adept at asking questions which is the basic foundation of critical thinking - questioning and seeking options.

Problem Solving
Building problem solving skills boosts a child's confidence. Young children can begin working on this skill through board or card games, doing simple science projects, math games, play with construction and building materials or even in simple daily tasks. When solving problems we use previous personal experience and logic to derive possible options. Children need experiences to draw from so putting a puzzle together, solving a simple tangram, or figuring out how to build a block bridge add to those experiences. This practice leads to understanding the importance of prioritization and planning. For example if you are building a bridge out of blocks or Legos you need have a strong foundation and plan ahead about how that will happen. Both successes and failures teach children more about the problem solving process. We can help by being available to encourage, support and answer questions as they come up.

Be Creative
Imaginative play that includes children taking on different roles can bring a greater understanding about real world situations. Letting children take the lead in developing imaginative play gives them a safe way to explore and echo things they've seen parents or other adults doing. As the adult you may find that you are invited to be the audience or a participant, but remember to let the child lead the action. Books, movies or television programs can also spur on creative thinking. Discussing the actions, emotions or subjects can help children bring clarity and relevance to real life situations now and in the future. Conversations are a time to ask open ended questions. The "what if" game is a great way to get critical thinking skills going. After reading a book or watching a program you start with "what if . . . " adding a twist that would make the story head on a different path and then let the child take off with it. They may enjoy asking you some "what if" questions too.

Real Life Situations
Every day brings opportunities to talk about real experiences. Parents and other adults close to children often try to avoid talking or sharing the most difficult situations to protect them. While it's true we need to be selective, you may be surprised to know just how intuitive children are and that they are thinking about serious matters frequently. Allowing them to share their fears and past experiences allows them to work through and process information. Being a good listener is vital in encouraging children to share. This can be a great opportunity to do some brainstorming on ideas and using role play to act them out. While this can seem serious it can also have an element of fun with it.

Awareness of Others
Understanding the feelings and viewpoints of others allows children to start seeing a problem or situation from all sides. It opens up their frame of reference beyond themselves or their family. While younger children are primarily egocentric in their thinking they can still start to be aware of others. Typically when children reach about seven they start to have a greater understanding of others, their views and feelings. Getting them talking about their feelings is a first step. Young children assume everyone else thinks like them so sharing your thoughts are helpful to them seeing that others think and react differently. Participating in group play and play dates expose them to peers which gives them experience with others. Being aware of other viewpoints and ideas provides another tool in the critical thinking toolbox.
 
Thinking is question driven. Critical thinking skills take questioning to another level by adding problem solving, awareness of multiple viewpoints, personal experience, evaluation and assessment which lead to options for solutions. This non-linear thinking opens doors and expands ideas. It's no wonder innovative companies are seeking those with strong critical thinking skills. On a personal level it allows the individual not to be overwhelmed when challenged with a real world situation because they are seeing options not obstacles.

We're interested in your thoughts on critical thinking and encouraging critical thinking skills in children. Please feel free to post your comment below!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Waiting for Spring


I know that I'm not alone in looking for any sign that Spring is coming!  March 20 is the day Spring should appear, but there's no way with the unseasonable cold temperatures and piles of snow still on the ground. It's enough to make anyone despair - unless . . . you make a little Spring yourself. Here are a few ideas to get that springy feeling even if the weather isn't cooperating.

Get Growing
In Minnesota we can't always wait for the weather to provide optimum growing conditions. Why not start something growing inside today!
Grass - grass seeds take root and grow quickly. You may have seen grass coming from an egg shell or potato like hair from your head. Those are whimsical, simple and fun to do. But you can also grow a larger patch of grass in a basket or deep dish. What's fun about the larger container is you can grow more than one variety of grass and see their progress. Once the grass was really established we'd get out our scissors and give the grass a trim. Each child had their own basket of grass. We took photos of our grass garden, propped small plastic items in our grass garden and later when the weather was warm our garden came outside to continue growing. You'll need grass seed - several varieties if you want to go that route - good potting soil, a container that can be lined, drainage of rocks and gravel. If you want to use a pot made for plants you don't need the drainage items.
Terrarium - these clear container gardens are wonderful for indoor enjoyment. A variety of plants do well in these containers including succulents. You'll need the container - glass or plastic, rocks and gravel for drainage, good quality soil and several plants. Don't overcrowd when planting as each plant needs room. Place in a window so it gets some good light each day and enjoy. We would occasionally put in a toy animal or character which made them look like they were in a jungle. It's interesting to watch not only plant growth but see the roots taking hold. Placing a lid or plastic cover over the container will do a variety of things including raising the temperature in the space and providing "rain" inside the terrarium. The lid or cover should be removed as plants grow larger and to allow for air flow to the plants.

Paperbag Kite
Using a lunch size bag is easiest for small children to manage but you can also scale this up to a grocery sized bag. Have the children decorate their bags with stickers, markers, crayons, etc. Punch holes in all four corners of the open side of the bag, tie a length of light weight string to each corner through the hole (you may want strengthen the corner of the bag before punching the hole by using a piece of tape on the inside and outside of the corner), gather all four lengths of string from the corners and tie together. As the child runs the bag fills with air and flies. You can tie the four corner strings to a another string so that the child can have it trail after them. Light weight streamers can be added - crepe paper or light ribbon works best. This kite flies well outdoors too!

Jumping for Joy
How about a bubble wrap hopscotch game! Doesn't that sound fun and exciting? We made bubble wrap spaces for hopscotch and then using gentle painter's tape secured them to the floor. They actually worked well on carpeted floors or over rugs as well. No matter the person's skill level at hopscotch everyone got a lot out of jumping on the bubble wrap. It's a sensory and physical release that satisfies the longing for the days spent out in the spring sun . . . at least for a little while. Great for rainy days or anytime!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Nanny Family Travel Tips

No matter what time of year we get questions from both nannies and families asking for travel tips – how to make the experience positive, how to set expectations, how to prepare, and many more. Nannies who travel with their employer families and families who have their nannies travel with them have a unique experience ahead of them. The key is planning and preparing in advance, being clear about expectations and boundaries. The bottom line is that this is the family’s vacation and the nanny is included as the child care provider. Ideally everyone should come home with fond memories and good feelings.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Warm Valentine's Day Project

by Kelly Miller

The gingerbread houses are all packed away, but we still have many weeks of winter. Are you looking for a fun activity?  Every winter, I make "ice castles" with the children.  We build the castle with sugar cubes, and we use white frosting as glue.   (You could build igloos, too.) Then we decorate the castle with conversation hearts, gum drops, and other Valentine's Day candies. Gummy bears make up the castle's inhabitants.  Each year the castles have gotten bigger and more elaborate... last year, we used five boxes of sugar cubes and two tubs of frosting!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Homemade Snow Dough


This is a favorite dough recipe from when I was a child. What makes it a Snow Dough is the sparkling quality the glitter adds to the dough. I prefer the iridescent or white glitter rather than the silver or gold glitter which is often also coarser and can tend to make the dough more crumbly or tough. With this dough project children don't have to wait to have a winter fun day. When it's just too cold to play outdoors this can be a nice substitute activity. Appropriate for children about 18 months and up. The children can add props to their snow people and snow scenes - sticks, found objects, beads, etc.

Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons white tempera paint (this really whitens the dough which can have a grayish tinge otherwise)
1 tablespoon white or iridescent glitter (this little amount makes a big impact)
*A few drops of peppermint extract or another extract you like (optional)
*If you'd like to color your dough you can add either a few drops of food coloring or a small amount of colored tempera paint.

Directions
1. Combine all of the ingredients except the extract (if using) in a medium-size pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture holds together, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
2.Turn the play dough onto a waxed paper–lined counter to cool, about 15 minutes. If you like, knead in peppermint extract for a festive holiday scent.

I also recommend giving each child their own space at the table. A tray or mat can help keep their creations stable while providing a defined personal space. Everyone at the table is sharing, enjoying the activity while also having their creations and space respected.

If you'd like to create a winter snow scene and snow people to display, use a paper plate or some other container as a base.  Over time the dough will begin to dry and eventually crumble. Children should be prepared for this. This is a teachable moment opportunity - a time to talk about the way our outdoor snow creations don't last forever because of the weather, so too the indoor creations have a limited time. So we enjoy them while we have them!

If you want to reuse your dough again and again don't leave it out. After playing store in a Ziploc bag or air tight container in the refrigerator. The dough keeps for about two weeks, maybe a little more, if refrigerated.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

15 Ways to Thank Your Nanny

By Nannies from the Heartland staff

During this season, families often ask us how they can thank their amazing nannies. Here are some ideas from the Nannies from the Heartland staff!
  1. Have the children make her cards or art projects.
  2. Encourage your nanny to take advantage of classes, seminars, and other professional-development opportunities. Pay for the class or pay her for the time she spends at it.
  3. Tell her about the impact she has on your family: "Sasha sure loves reading with you!" or, "The boys won't stop talking about the trip you took to the zoo." Even better, make it specific to her best qualities: "You are so good at listening to the children," or, "I really admire the way you teach Jacob spelling."
  4. While a pay raise or bonus is wonderful, also consider compensation that won't be taxable income. This might include a contribution to health insurance or retirement.
  5. Give her a framed photo of her with your children or family.
  6. Make time to ask your nanny for her insight about your children--she is a child care expert!
  7. Give your nanny her birthday or another special day as additional paid vacation time.
  8. Recognize milestones, such as her annual anniversary of working for your family. Enlist your children in baking a cake, presenting a special song, or picking her flowers.
  9. Purchase her a membership to the International Nanny Association or another industry organization.
  10. Allow your nanny to take the children on outings and to playgroups. Consider purchasing a zoo, pool, or park membership for her to enjoy with your children.
  11. Make sure your home is stocked with books, art supplies, games, and the other tools she needs to perform her job with excellence.
  12. Give your nanny regular performance evaluations and feedback. Educate yourself about industry pay and employment standards so you are sure your nanny is being paid competitively. We will happily give our client families advice about current trends; just contact us any time.
  13. If your nanny is truly exceptional, ask for her permission to nominate her for International Nanny Association's Nanny of the Year award.
  14. Put together a gift basket based around an activity she enjoys: watching movies, cooking, exercising, scrapbooking, etc. Include gift cards, edibles, and small items. Children love taking part in this!
  15. If possible, allow her a bit of schedule flexibility for doctors' appointments, important family commitments, and other events in her out-of-work life.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Helping Children Cope with Holiday Stress



For many children, the holidays are happy, fun and exciting. There is a break from school and a chance to see friends and relatives. However, the holidays can also be stressful and confusing.

Family plans and celebrations may be complicated a variety of factors. Relationships with adult siblings can put children in awkward positions. Family dynamics can be hard to navigate particularly with families who are separated, divorced or remarried.

The following are some tips for parents to help children cope with holiday stress:

Discuss holiday plans well in advance, and include your children in the planning process. Children need some degree of control and predictability. Prolonged uncertainty, constantly changing plans or last minute decisions can all increase stress. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a spontaneous experience but be careful that other plans aren’t upset in the process.

Make sure children get plenty of rest. While it may be exciting to stay up late, lack of sleep often leads to increased irritability. Stick to the “normal routine” as much as you are able. This is also true of regular meals and snacks. Holiday time brings in special foods and sweets. Be thoughtful about how these impact children’s health and wellbeing.

Limit the amount of time children spend alone watching TV or playing video games. Encourage physical activity and interaction with peers. Include physical activity in your holiday events. This can be a wonderful time to try something new together as a family. Our family loves to engage in group games and community service projects together. Getting outdoors to play or take a family walk are easy ways for everyone to enjoy physical activity.

Don’t promise things you can’t produce. For example, don’t promise something will happen during the holidays if the decision is really out of your control. Instead stick with plans that are achievable and reasonable.

Don’t try and compensate for an absent family member or inability to do a special activity with lots of gifts. What most children really want is your time and attention. Focus on them. In fact, limiting gifts can have a positive effect. Many families choose one special gift per child. Our family did this along with a family gift – a new game, special activity together or some other family based event that everyone could enjoy. This shifts the focus from gifts to time spent together.

Uphold and maintain family traditions. Children count on certain traditions. They can have an important grounding effect. There is also a place to add a family tradition to as children grow allowing them to broaden their holiday experiences. I know a family who volunteers to deliver meals to families unable to get out. They have done this for years and their daughter looks forward to the tradition and the service to others. Our family plays tag football as part of our traditional Thanksgiving activities.

As the adult, take care of yourself. Try to avoid getting overloaded with obligations. If you feel stressed, it increases the pressure and tension on your children.

Most children enjoy the holidays. However, preparation, patience and honesty can help prevent conflict, reduce stress, and enhance the holiday season for the whole family.