Thursday, April 6, 2017

Spring Scavenger Hunt

Here is a fun game to play!  Get the children outside and let them work on their observation skills.  Each player gets one point for every sign of spring they find.  This game is meant to be played over a period of days.  To add interest have the children come up with a list of their own of "spring things" - enjoy!
-the sounds of spring: peepers, frogs and toads
-music from an open car window
-a woodpecker
-a bird signing
-a plant emerging from the ground
-a bud on a tree or bush
-a flower in bloom
-a mushroom
-sap oozing from a tree
-a dog or cat shedding
-a brightly colored bird
-a salamander
-a newborn animal
-a turtle sunning on a log
-a baby out in a stroller
-a screen where a window used to be
-laundry hanging out to dry
-bathing suits in a shop window
-someone in-line skating or skateboarding

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!