Friday, September 28, 2012

Fingerpaint Tree

by Kelly Miller

Image Source: Pinterest
I had fun doing this easy project with the toddler I care for this week. To make an apple tree, paint the child's arm and hand brown. Stamp a trunk onto paper.  Then take the child's fingers to make green or fall leaves. Lastly use the child's fingers to make red apples (or cherries).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Happy National Nanny Recognition Week!

Happy National Nanny Recognition Week
to all nannies!
We appreciate you and
what you do in serving
children and families!
Best Wishes from
Nannies from the Heartland

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Stuck" - Eek!

Another offering from Samantha Sawyer . . .

“Stuck” – eek!

You’re stuck. I’m stuck. We’re all stuck in a rut!

Does it seem like your child always gets stuck? Stuck in a tantrum, stuck and clinging to your leg, stuck with anxiety or thought perseverations?

Children often get stuck when they are operating from the “downstairs” portion of their brains, the part responsible for survival. These brains then pump your little one's body full of stress chemicals as if she needs to escape from a lion in the jungle. And you know what that feels like because when she's in "fight or flight" mode it triggers the exact same stress chemistry in…you guessed it…YOU.

Traditional parenting techniques teach you to stay firm, hold your ground and above all else – never give in. However, these methods don’t incorporate the latest neuroscience and child development research into the most important of everyday interactions, the ones between you and your child. And – science aside – how are those techniques working for you anyway? If you're like many families you're thinking:

My child still throws fits.
I’m still feeling stressed out.
Our household is still loaded with tension.

The most common reason for your child being stuck is due to using techniques from the “upstairs” brain, the part responsible for logic and problem solving. As adults we're really good at that, however, we also inadvertently keep children stuck “downstairs” because of our oh-so-serious “upstairs” approach:

Stop crying; you’ll be fine.
I’m not picking you up because then you’ll be getting your way.
Just close your eyes and go to sleep there’s nothing to be worried about.

Don’t feel bad if these are common thoughts or sayings in your house – they are common, which is why I wrote this article for you. And if you feel uncomfortable now that you know these phrases contribute to stuck-ness, it means you're ready to shift. Perfect, because I'm about to tell you how. If you’ve received parent and/or play coaching from me before you’ve heard what I’m about to say. And I warn you it sounds easy, and it can be, however, truly making a shift requires conscious effort and daily practice.
Solution to "stuck" - Meet your child where they are at.

What – that’s it? Yes. Research shows that when we meet a child where s/he is at, the brain chemistry will naturally start to self-soothe so s/he feels calm rather than upset. Techniques of heartfelt appreciation, attunement, and/or joining in child-centered play are all ways to ease your child out of fight or flight mode because the root of them all is meeting your child where she is at. It "causes" a decrease in tantrums, an increase in self-soothing and greater joyful expression. Need more to motivate you? More of the bright side: when your child is calm and happy your mirror neurons kick-in and you naturally become calm and happy too.

So give it a try. Get everyone’s brain in the same room by meeting your child where she's at. You’ll be building a ladder to help her up, enhance her self-soothing capabilities and improve social awareness skills. Help your child get un-stuck and you will get un-stuck too. Then you can get outside and enjoy the fall weather and changing leaves...together!

That's why Brightening Connections provides play coaching to families in their homes. We help you identify what area of the brain your child is in and the best ways to help her get un-stuck. Want to try parent and/or play coaching?  We’re offering 10 FREE initial consultations in October. 
Contact Samantha today at 651-785-3059 or  (must mention Nannies to “win”)

BIO: Samantha Sawyer M.A., CCC-SLP and Certified Parent Coach, empowers parents to be the expert and reveal their child's unique skills while enhancing family dynamics with her innovative and holistic "5 Polka Dots" approach. Her passion is teaching caregivers fun and easy ways to enhance development through play in their natural home environment.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Corn Maze Opens This Weekend!

by Kelly Miller
2012 Twins Corn Maze in Minnesota

One of my families favorite fall activities is visiting a corn maze.  We were very excited when a new maze opened 3 years ago just a few miles from our home.  My children love to spend hours playing in the corn pit, listening to music, enjoying a picnic lunch and getting lost in the maze. 

The Twin Cities Harvest Festival and Maze opens this weekend in Brooklyn Park.  This is Minnesota's largest corn maze with an armed forces theme this year.  Check it out on Saturdays and Sundays or during MEA in October.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Carrot Patch Snack!

from Family Fun (
Here's a treat hungry students are sure to dig: baby carrots planted in tasty dip. What a fun snack to come home to after a full day of school activity or the perfect classroom treat!

 Carrot Patch Ingredients
      Hummus (see recipe below)
      Baby carrots
      Curly parsley
     For each patch, spoon about 3 tablespoons of hummus into a small plastic cup (ours were 3-ounce size).
     Shortly before serving, gather four (or more) baby carrots for each cup and use a toothpick to poke a hole in the top of each one. Insert a sprig of parsley into each hole.
     Then plant the carrots in the hummus.
     For a special presentation, you can place the cups in mini terra-cotta pots. These pots can be used again and again or you can use them to start a seedling of their own. 
Hummus Ingredients
One 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 crushed garlic clove
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini (sesame-seed paste)
Puree all the ingredients in a food processor or blender until creamy. Leftovers can be refrigerated, covered, for a week. Makes 1-1/2 cups.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Communication Styles Start Early

Did you know each of us have a communication personality? It's the style that is most comfortable to us when speaking or interpreting information - and it starts early. If you've ever wondered why you can't seem to make your point to your employer, co-worker, friend, nanny or spouse it might be that your style isn't matching theirs. And if the children in your life don't seem to be on the same page with you, it might be that your styles don't match.

Some of us like the details - in fact we need the details, while others just want the bottom line. Also, some of us are very tuned into another's feelings and comfortable sharing feelings, while others naturally prefer to keep that part of themselves out of communication interactions. All these are normal and natural styles - one is not better than another, just a different approach. But what if I knew you were a bottom line kind person, and I could adjust my style to "talk your language" - wouldn't that strengthen our communications? You bet it would!

The Platinum Rule by Dr. Tony Alessandra was developed as a sales tool, but has since been adapted to include general interpersonal communication. I have participated in training sessions where we were asked to complete a brief assessment. Each of us discovered our own style and then explored the other styles to learn more. Once you know more it's easy to see the similarities and differences. It opened your eyes to the possibilities of greater clarity of comunnication.

There are four distinct styles but many variations on each of those styles. Through life experience, schooling and just intuitiveness you might have learned to adjust your natural style to others or to a specific situation. Observing the children in your life you'll probably recognize the traits in their purest forms. For identification purposes the styles are named after birds - and to some degree you can see the connection. The Dove is the peace maker, a wonderful listener, empathetic and needs to feel emotionally connected to others, usually quieter in nature. The Owl is the detail person, good listener with perfectionist tendencies, more reserved and needs time to process information, speed isn't their thing. The Eagle is the bottom line individual, not always the best listener, takes charge of situations, makes decisions easily, strong leadership skills but enjoys being around others. The Peacock is interested in having fun, listens well especially if there is an emotional tie, connections with others are important, is spontaneous and outgoing.

I found that if I want to communicate with another style I want to adjust my style to more closely match theirs. For instance, as a nanny to two teenagers who are obviously different in how they communicate and interpret information, I've come to realize that one really needs me to get to the bottom line - simple logic, simple expectations - and the other really needs me to connect emotionally. The youngest (8) needs details and explanations, so I need to shift into that gear for him. Looking back at my previous nanny family of 20 years I can see how they developed their communication styles early. As toddlers and preschoolers it was becoming obvious they each had their own way. I just didn't know all the reasons behind these differences at that time. Now it makes more sense and is actually a great tool when connecting with children.

This understanding has also been very helpful when speaking to employers, co-workers, friends or other adults. I've come to realize how each person needs to recieve information and how they usually interpret information. I know that my employer appreciates the personal direct approach, but also likes it when I write down all details as well. This is especially important when working with multiple parent households where clear communication with everyone is essential - it often means saying the same thing to each adult in a different way to make sure everything is clear and accurate. In doing this for them I am able to model how I'd like them to communicate with me.

The Platinum Rule  - "treat others as they would wish to be treated." Speaking to others in their language is an asset in your communication tool kit.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's Apple Time!

Here are a couple of simple apple recipes that are fun to do with children and delicious as well. As I frequently say - "Child tested, Nanny approved!" or "Nanny tested, Child approved!"

Apple Pizza
- pizza dough, ready made or your favorite recipe
- 6 to 8 apples
- sugar
- cinnamon
- butter
Peel and slice apples. You can also chop them into smaller bits if you'd like. Older children can be very helpful in this step. I would peel and core the apples then let the children slice or chop using a butter knife. This usually works well for little hands.
Mix apple slices/pieces with sugar and cinnamon to taste. Sorry I don't have exact portions - guessing about 1/2 cup of sugar to 1 tablespoon of cinnamon.
Roll out dough as you would for a pizza. You can use a round pizza pan or rectangular cookie sheet. This step needs some hands on work - children love this part!
Pile apples onto dough leaving about 2 inches around the perimeter. This 2 inch dough area is then folded over the edge of the apples. This fold does not cover all the apples just the edge.
Using cold butter - about 1/2 stick - cut into small cubes. This is another good job for the children. Distribute the butter over the apples.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until crust is golden and apples are bubbly. Let cool before serving.
Because the pizza dough is not sweet, it is a great contrast to the sweet, tart apples. I like to mix different types of apples in one pizza.

- Apples
- Sugar
- Cinnamon
Peel, core and chop apples into small pieces. Place into large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until apples start to soften. Here's where I take it from the heat and everyone takes a turn "mashing" the apples. I like a traditional potato masher for this job. I wrap the saucepan in a large towel and hold while the child mashes away. If the apples are still firm return to heat to cook a little longer. Let apples cool a little. Add cinnamon and sugar to taste. "To taste" is a magical experiment all it's own. We would add some, sample, add some more, sample again, and so on. I would have a pile of spoons ready for taste testing.
IF you have leftovers store in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Early Childhood Education Choices - Part Two

In part one we focused on some basics about starting young children in an early childhood program. Part two is exploring the different philosophies of types of early childhood programs and program essentials.

Each program has its own philosophy of teaching and how children learn best. When considering a good fit look for programs that match your own philosophy. How are concepts introduced to children? What is the philosophy about play and exploration? Is there a balance in active and quiet activities? Some programs stress a balanced curriculum while others put more emphasis on pre-academics, music, math or science. What is a typical daily schedule and how does that fit with your child's personality an demeanor?

Typically Montessori programs emphasize child selected work rather than teacher selected projects. Materials available to the children are specific in nature and have a step-by-step procedure to develop a concept goal. The child works independently and moves about the room at will choosing materials. Children are encouraged to take care of themselves as much as possible (bathrooming, snack, clean up, etc.). Classes are generally not segregated by age, although this varies due to the physical capacity of the facility and classrooms. Montessori encourages individual progress and embraces the concept that children will learn at their own pace. Most Montessori schools will also incorporate some group and outdoor play time in their daily routines.

The guiding elements in a Montessori school are:

  • Mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½ or 3 to 9 years old by far the most common
  • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time
  • A constructivist or "discovery" model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
  • Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators

  • Reggio Emilia
    Reggio Emilia is a program based on respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum. Newer to the middle of the country this school style is popular on the east and west coasts. Children's interests are the focus rather than a set of curriculum of academic goals. Children are encouraged to work in groups. Materials offered are diverse. This program believes children can express themselves through various visual media, not just speech. Children's work is displayed emphasizing that their work is important and so that they see their own progress.

    The four principles of the Reggio Emilia school are:

  • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning
  • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing
  • Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore
  • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves

  • Waldorf Schools
    Waldorf schools embrace the whole child (mind, body and spirit) and believe in whole-learning approach. Play is viewed as the work of the child where storytelling and fantasy are incorporated into the curriculum. Simple toys and materials are incorporated are used to encourage imaginative play and problem solving. The Waldorf philosophy stresses that the child is a social being and the development of social skills is as important as any other concept. Teachers model good social behavior by joining together in movement, singing and group games building community and problem solving skills. There is routine and structure to the day that children can count on, as well as focus on seasonal themes. In early childhood learning is largely experimental, imitative and sensory based. The educational emphasizes learning through practical activities. Waldorf schools start in the preschool years and go through high school. Some home school families use Waldorf curriculum and philosophy as well.

    Co-Op Programs
    Programs that are co-op in nature may have varied philosophies, but all require parent/adult participation. How often participation is expected also varies from program to program. Nannies and parents are expected to assist with curriculum implementation under the direction of the staff. This is a wonderful way to observe the child in a group setting. Typically co-op early childhood programs have lower enrollment fees because parents, nannies or other adults are helping the staff both in the classroom and in support capacities. Often these programs are run by a board of directors which include staff, parents and other community leaders. Some co-op programs are sponsored by larger groups such as churches or community education.

    Preschool Checklist
    Regardless of the program you choose the following list of learning opportunities should be taken into consideration. Each preschool will implement these into their curriculum in variety of  ways.

    You'll want to be sure your child is having experiences with . . .

  • Emotional development - understanding their feeling and the feelings of others, able to manage their emotions in a group setting, expression, etc.
  • Communication skills - talking, listening, expression, writing, etc.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the world around them
  • Mathematical awareness -  patterns, numbers, measurement, comparison, etc.
  • Physical development and physical health
  • Play - opportunities to play alone and with others, active and quite play, indoors and out
  • Teamwork - building skills for playing and working together which includes social skills
  • Self-help skills - including bathrooming, meals/snacks, clothing, clean up, etc.
  • Social skills - group activities, sharing, cooperative learning, communication, emotional control
  • Critical thinking - problem solving, decision making, logic, understanding others, organizing information, etc.
  • Creative arts and expression - drama, open ended art, crafts, special projects, music, dance, etc.
  • Literacy - rich language development, storytime, phonic games, alphabet activities, support early readers and writers, etc.
  • Wednesday, September 5, 2012

    Jumping Frogs

    The eight year old I care for came home from school and showed me how to make this Jumping Frog. We had a great time making lots of frogs of different sizes, having "jump offs", and adding character to each frog with colored pencils. We used white copy paper and some colored paper as well, but you can us any paper that folds and creases well.
    I found this on Family Fun to share with you. You too can enjoy some Jumping Frogs!

    For the full size PDF printable go to:


    Monday, September 3, 2012

    Early Childhood Education Choices - Part One

    When is a child ready for a formal preschool program? What program is best for the child and family? What options are available to introduce early childhood learning? Families with young children may struggle with some of these questions as their children grow and develop. As a partner with the family, the nanny can be a real asset in assisting the family with exploring all the choices. The child's best interests are at the core of any consideration about early childhood program options.

    Every child is an individual and unique. Some children may be ready for a structured program as a toddler, while others may benefit from a less formal playgroup setting. The child's personality and demeanor need to be considered. Observation of interactions with the adults as well as other children in their lives may also give clues to readiness. Children should be comfortable in a group setting. They should be able to communicate their wants and needs to adults. Some programs have requirements about the child's ability to use the bathroom on their own. The child's ease in separating from their parent or nanny should also be taken into consideration.

    Early Exposure
    Infants and toddlers typically should have some experience with playgroups or play dates before considering enrollment in a program. This gives the child an opportunity to "practice" interactions and gives the adult an opportunity to observe those interactions. This is also a wonderful chance to teach appropriate group behaviour and peer connections, as well as encourage problem solving skills. Some children are not ready for a more formal program and do better in these small informal group settings ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) classes are good introductions to social groups and adults are encouraged and supported as well.

    Preschool Basics
    When looking at preschool programs, keep in mind that there are a variety of philosophies and styles. Group size, classroom environment, schedule and staff are all important points to consider. Early childhood education experience are meant to be a positive stepping stone into the school years.
    • Accreditation - Some preschools have gone through an accreditation process. Not all accreditation is created equal so it is appropriate to ask questions about the process they went through and how often they are re-evaluated. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a very thorough and balanced accreditation process that is highly respected in the early childhood field. Other accreditation bodies may also have strong requirements.
    • Staff - Preschool or Early Childhood staff is a significant part of screening the program. How long has the current staff been with the program? Staff turnover is always a concern. Some turnover is to be expected, but excessive turnover may point to staffing issues. Ask about classroom staff to child ratios. Most classrooms/programs have a lead teacher and may have an assistant teacher or aide. What does the program require in  the experience and training qualifications for each of these positions? Does the program require and/or provide continuing education opportunities for their staff?
    • References - It is always appropriate to ask to talk with other parents who have enrolled their child in the program. If you have been referred to a program by a friend or relative as them about their experience. Are parents/nannies welcome and encouraged to volunteer or observe?

    Part Two will focus on different programs and their philosophies.