Birth to three

We asked Chicago: Is there enough access to early childhood education?

The No Small Matter team recently hit the streets in our hometown of Chicago to ask everyday folks — including some educators and parents of preschool-aged kids: do enough families have good access to daycare and preschool?

Watch this quick video to hear what Chicagoans had to say - and let us know in the comments if you've had your own struggles to access childcare and preschool where you live.

Mac-N-Cheese Please!!

Are you ready to have the greatest mac-n-cheese ever?!? It may come as a surprise but did you know that children's book author and illustrator Todd Parr is also an amazing cook?! Well, he is! Here is Todd's recipe for the the best mac-n-cheese EVER. 

Let’s start with the ingredients

  • 1 box of pasta (if you use elbow macaroni you can talk about different body parts!! Science!!)
  • 2 cups of cheddar cheese
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 2TBS butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do.

Boil water and cook macaroni. Set aside.

In a separate pot over medium heat add 2 TBS of butter.

When melted add a small handful of the cheddar cheese.

To the cheese and butter add a full can of condensed milk.

Add remaining cheese and turn the heat on low.

Stir continually until the cheese is completely melted.

Add the cheese to the pasta and stir.

WARNING: This will be hot!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wanna turn this into a tasty math and science lesson? Here’s how.

Start with the measuring. Have the little ones measure out the butter and cheese. If your child is anything like me make sure to watch them with the cheese (I’m a totally cheese sneeker!) Measuring allows your child to work on quantity, volume, fractions, and one-to-one correspondence.

Boiling the water is a great place to insert some science. You can talk about the properties of water. Ask your little learner what happens when water gets cold and when it gets hot. Ask them to make predictions about what will happen when you add heat. You can even do a time exploration by making predictions about how long they think it will take for the water to boil.

Bring in some more science with the cheese sauce. Discuss how cheese is a solid (another place to insert some science vocabulary). Then ask them what they think will happen when you add the cheese to the heat.

Finally, you can wrap up this mini lesson with setting the table. Have your little one count how many cups, plates, and forks you will need for dinner. Let them set the table and count as they do each place setting.

Sharing a meal is a powerful thing. According to The Family Dinner Project, sharing regular meals with family reduces substance abuse and depression, while promoting higher grade point averages and boosting self-esteem. 

MASSIVE thanks to Todd for sharing his home, his food, and his friendship! Check out Todd Parr for all things Todd! 

                                            -Ms. Giannini


Pt. 2 - Overcoming STEM Anxiety with Adults

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America Foundation just released their STEM Starts Early report, exploring science, technology, engineering, and math learning for young children. We had the chance to ask lead author Elisabeth McClure a few questions about the report, for a three-part blog series.

In Part 2 - It's not just little learners that have anxiety around STEM topics. Parents, and even teachers, don't always feel comfortable diving into science and math.  

Q: How can parents and educators effectively check on our biases (and maybe anxieties!) about science and math in approaching these topics with young children?

McClure: The first step is just to be aware of those biases! Parents and teachers are some of the most influential STEM guides in a child’s life, so when parents and teachers show that they are anxious about STEM topics or demonstrate that they don’t think they’re as important as other domains, or that they are more important for boys than girls, the children quickly pick up on these attitudes and carry them with them into the future. But, conversely, when parents and teachers are confident and enthusiastic about STEM topics and engage the children in developmentally tailored STEM activities, they pass along that excitement to their children.

In terms of what you can do right now, today, I would say: just start feeding your own curiosity! It’s a little like the old “stop and smell the roses” idea. Start being more aware of all the amazing things around you, encourage your own wonder, and then openly express that. Be vocal about saying “Wow!” and, instead of feeling pressured to answer all your students’ “Why? Why? Why?” questions, start asking “Why?” back, and start answering with, “I don’t know! I wonder if…” and then collaborating with students to find ways to answer your questions together. STEM isn’t just a set of topic areas – it is, fundamentally, a way of thinking. So, as a teacher, when you model those ways of thinking as a co-learner (rather than an information-giver), you are nurturing that way of thinking in them as well. If you can cultivate that wonder and curiosity in yourself and in them, then children will have the tools to acquire the content they encounter.

Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Q: We loved that the report highlighted STEM work already happening in preschool classrooms! How do we better close the loop between longstanding "engineering" and scientific exploration taking place in early childhood settings (fort building, block play, etc.) and building a classroom culture of scientific inquiry that represents what we now know children are capable of?

McClure: The key here is to notice when it’s already taking place, to realize that the child is not only capable of attaining the goal (getting the object) but also of meeting the challenge (solving the problem) with your support, and then take advantage of that opportunity by engaging the child in an interaction that encourages their scientific inquiry. Children already have that natural curiosity – we say they are “born scientists” – but they need your support to grow that curiosity into true STEM skills and habits of mind.

Q: So much STEM early learning happens at home. How can teachers use documentation to illustrate STEM learning and encourage parental buy-in? 

McClure: It can be really helpful, when talking to parents, to explain it in this way: STEM learning is a lot like learning a language. If we want our children to become fluent in STEM, they need to be immersed in STEM learning and be able to practice it across all areas of their lives.

Parents have an enormous opportunity as their child’s first teachers, as well as a consistent presence as they grow and across their environments, to help connect the dots between separate learning experiences and make their learning truly immersive.

And it’s so important for parents to understand that we’re not talking about doing massive science fair projects at home every night. We’re talking about things like keeping an eye out for opportunities to ask their children the “WH” questions – “Who, what, when, where, why?” We’re talking about noticing when their child is experimenting with something, in all those thousands of ways they do every day, and helping to scaffold that process and make it more explicit. Parents don’t need to be experts – they just need to be willing to learn alongside their children, encouraging them to ask questions, and to participate with their child in trying to figure out the answers.

In Part Three of our interview, we'll explore policy and curriculum recommendations for better incorporating STEM holistically into early learning environments.

Candy Candy Candy

Trick-or-treating is a scary good time….but you know what would make it better? Turning the sweet candy haul into a fun math lesson!! 

It takes a village to raise a child

It takes a village to raise a child. Everyday, parents send their children into the arms of other adults with the confidence that this person is going to care, educate, support and love their little one. Be it a preschool teacher, daycare facility, family member, babysitter, or nanny, this person acts as a surrogate parent and has the ability to deeply impacts a child’s life.

As a preschool teacher, I was devoted to providing the best care and guidance to little ones everyday. I am not alone. With roughly 80% of parents in the workforce, it is clear that raising a child is a community effort. For the majority of working parents, a facility, school, or family members are given the responsibility for helping raise a child. For some, the solution of balancing a child and work is a nanny.

Taylor has been a nanny to a single family for a year. As an assistant preschool teacher, she developed a bond with a then 13 month old Olivia. With Olivia’s sibling on the way the parents, Isabel and Jose, reached out to Taylor about becoming their full time nanny. Once Frida was born Taylor left the classroom and transitioned into the world of becoming a personal care giver.

Q:  Describe your job as a nanny.

A: I’m a third parent. I do, as well as I know, [that] they consider [me] a third parent, caregiver and this is my job. I’m there to help them learn and to help them grow. It is a different level of responsibility and care. More than a babysitter, more than a teacher. I am responsible to the girls and to the parents to care for these children the best I can.

Q: How is it different than being a preschool teacher?

A: The bond for sure. I’m so close with these girls. I’m with them all the time.

Q: How often are you with the kids?

A: Monday through Friday 8:30-4:30. Although, I’ll step in for a weekend if they need help or a date night. I’m with them a lot, it is a full-time job. It is a reason why the trust the parents have in me is so important. Why my time with them is so important.

Q: What impact would you say you have on them?

A: The fact that they are two young little girls, and I’m a woman, but more I am a woman who is challenging the ideas of what it means to be a woman. The way I live my life is outside of the norm. I think it is important for the girls to know that a woman can have 1/8th of an inch of hair, can have tattoos, doesn’t have to wear makeup. There are so many different ways I present myself to them. For me growing up in a beauty pageant world I wasn’t surrounded by women who represented more than one idea of feminism. I know that if I was to grow up surrounded by someone outside of the society norm, I could have been more myself. They’re one and two and a half. I want to impress the idea that the possibilities are endless and I will be right there next to them.

Q: How have they impacted you?

A: They’ve taught me that I can do more than I thought I could. My first thought when I found out I was going to be with a one-year-old and a five-month year old was, “wow this is going to be difficult.” I’ve never worked with infants and I thought there is no way I can do this. But watching them grow every day and seeing all the little nuances. It’s been amazing for me. It’s beautiful.

Q: What is your relationship with the parents?

A: A lot of respect. They ask my advice on the girls, and I take cues from them when it comes to what they want for their children. It’s a little work team. I am thankful that the family I work with are both my friends and employers. I think that makes a huge difference.

Q: What is the greatest part about being a nanny?

A: The relationship. As a preschool teacher I got a little bit of that, but with them it’s different. To watch them grow from being a little bread loaf to walking and running, it’s amazing. I’m not sure if I will ever have my own children and I feel like I am part of this community whose goal is just to help these little girls flourish.   

- Mrs. Giannini


Got a question about child development? Ask Rachel!

Rachel answers YOUR questions about children's development and early learning.

Our first three questions?

Why, oh why, is my child always putting things in their mouth? 

Turns out, kids' mouths are actually the best tools they have to explore the world. Between 7 months and 2 years old, children don't have the fine motor skills they really need to investigate. By contrast, their mouths are very active sensory organs that they can use instead.

Why is my child OBSESSED with water?

For one thing, water is a pretty amazing element. It has sound, a feeling to it, it gushes and it drips. Plus, imagine you're a really little kid who's new to the world: It just seems to magically appear when you turn a knob and then disappears into a drain. If you had just started seeing that for the first time, it would seem pretty crazy to you, too! (Are you interested in some new ideas for exploring water with kids? Check out Rachel's water table video.)

How come my kid is not crawling?

The simple answer is: kids are all different. Some will crawl early, others a bit later, and some will just take off walking one day with no in-between step at all. And, for children who do crawl, their "gaits" can look really different from one another. But kids can develop and learn a lot from crawling, including binocular vision, stronger abdominal muscles, and just plain old fashioned exploration, independence, and separation. (Of course, if you are concerned about your child crawling, you should ask your pediatrician for medical advice.) 

Watch and submit your questions for Rachel on ECE, early childhood milestones, and more in the comments below.