Friday, September 27, 2013

Sometimes It May Be Better To Disregard Signs

BA @ Kids Matter

Recently, I was on vacation in Florida.  I love visiting my son, going to the beach, and getting out and sightseeing.  Photography is also a hobby of mine.  I like to take pictures of my family, people, and nature.  But, I also like quirky and interesting things. 
One day we were on our way to my favorite restaurant, at a local fish camp, when I spotted something of which I just had to take a picture!  We were driving on a relatively congested street and there it was, right in the middle of a busy intersection.  It was not a family member, an interesting person, a beautiful Florida flamingo, not even a seagull.  It was just a black and white sign.  Why would I take a picture of a sign?  As soon as I saw it I knew there was a “blog” idea behind that simple message!
The plain black letters on a white sign, including a phone number, simply read:
“Need a Babysitter?   Safe – Reliable   Background Investigated”
Now, I am quite sure that hundreds of people pass that sign on a daily basis.  How many of them have thought about it?  Has anyone called the number?  Could someone truly think that this would be an appropriate way to choose a caregiver for their child?  If so, that parent could definitely use some education on how to choose quality care.   Another sign should be erected in the same location that says:
“Looking for Quality Child Care?  Call your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency!”
I have worked for the Child Care Council of Kentucky (CCC), a local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R), since 1997.  A CCR&R is a great educational resource for parents and guardians. Local staff can provide an abundance of information on how to choose quality child care. Check out the CCC and parent resources on our website at  There are agencies of this type all across America.  To find one near you, simply do an online search for Child Care Aware (a national resource for parents). Make an educated, smart choice when choosing care for your child. It’s one of the most important decisions a parent or guardian makes.                                                                                                   
It may be best to disregard those signs at busy intersections!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Raising a Philanthropist

Angie @ Kids Matter

I have always tried to help out my fellow man and I am eager for my son to have that same drive. I do not recall my parents ever “teaching” me to be that way, but I am confident that there were many lessons in my youth that turned me into the person I am today.
Now that I am a mother to a six year old boy, I find myself frequently wondering how to put that same sense of giving into him. We do many things automatically, such as tithing for church or picking children to buy for from the Angel Tree each Christmas, but how do I make him understand that giving should not be an act we do exclusively on Sundays and at Christmas? How do I get him to the point that he has a “desire” to give instead of receive?
He frequently sees me give to others and he understands that Mommy works for a non-profit agency that works for the betterment of children and families and quality child care. He sees me wear t-shirts and caps that say “Kids Matter®”, and even has a couple of those shirts that he likes to sleep in. Does just reading my shirt give him a sense of understanding? No, it is not enough to wear the shirt or the cap, I have to take time out to show him the things that I do.
I sat with him one evening on our deck and we had a talk about how many toys he has, how many fun activities he gets to participate in and how all kids do not have the same advantages. We discussed that all parents want their kids to have nice toys and swimming lessons, but some parents have to use the money that they earn to just pay for food and a home. He was surprised by this and I quickly realized that I was not doing enough to make him a philanthropist. I told him that we were going to have a special project that weekend and that he was going to learn how to share and to give. He looked at me with a doubtful face about the fun I had just promised him.
The next Saturday, he woke me up at 7:00am, we ate breakfast and then we loaded ourselves into the car, along with a full backpack. He asked me repeatedly what was in the backpack, but I was vague and told him that we would see later.
First, we went to the park in our neighborhood. This is a great park! There are several toys to climb on, swings, swinging bridges and sand pits and we love to go there and play. He was excited, until I told him that we were not there to play. I got him out of the car and we started towards the playground area, while I explained that first we were going to pick up any trash we saw on the playground. I pulled gloves out of the backpack and we picked up the few pieces lying around. I then told him that we had something special in the backpack and we needed to go to the sand pit area. When we arrived, I pulled some little toys, including shovels, trucks, action figures and sand molds out of the backpack. We talked about how we love to play in the sand with our toys, but all kids do not have sand toys to play with. We used the little shovels to dig out small areas and buried the other toys in the sand. When we had finished that, we sat the shovels on the retaining walls for other kids to play with. On the walk back to the car, he talked about how happy kids would be to find the toys we left behind and how much fun they would have.
Next, we went to the Dollar Tree near our home and again the excitement about getting something new, lit up his face. I calmly explained that we were not there to buy anything for us; we were there to just bring happiness. After a few minutes of whining in the parking lot, he agreed to try things my way and we went into the store. After we were inside, I handed him five $1 bills and told him that we were going to hide the money in the store. He looked at me with doubt, but agreed to my plan. As usual, he veered straight to the toy section and started admiring all of the brightly colored toys hanging on the wall. After a minute of prodding, he put two of his $1 bills in the toy area. He picked easy to find areas for the money and we walked away to the book section.
 As we were picking out a few books to hide our money in, we heard a young child and mother approaching the toy section. The little boy was begging his Mom for a toy, but she told him that they would get one the next time. Regardless of this, the boy was still touching the toys and you could see that he really wanted one. As he is touching the toys, one of our $1 bills drops out and he becomes so excited that he is laughing and jumping up and down! His Mom tells him that since he found the money, he can buy a toy. As all of this is happening right in front of my son and he is watching the scene intently. After the family walks away, my son looks at me and asked why the Mom wouldn’t just buy a toy for the boy. I explained again that everyone does not have money for toys every time they walk into a store and that many times people have to save their money to buy something they want.
He thought for a few minutes and I thought I could actually see the wheels in his brain turning. After a couple of minutes, he looks up at me with his sweet and innocent face and said that he was happy he could buy a toy for that little boy and he wanted to do it some more. We left all of our five $1 bills in the store and left, knowing that someone would find the money soon and that even though we were not there, we would bring them happiness.
We have repeated these activities several times and have added even more acts to our list of Random Acts of Kindness. I am happy to say that most days he seems to understand the need for giving. There is always room for more understanding, but I think we have made a great dent in the “me, me, me” attitude that was starting to show itself. He still occasionally begs for toys and clothes, but when I have to say no, he usually accepts it well.
 A great lesson for me from all of this is that teaching a person compassion is a life long journey and I do not see an end anywhere in my near future. What I do see though is that this will be a journey with a great payoff for all involved, including me, my son and the public. This is one of the most important lessons that I will ever teach my child and I look forward to him being successful.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stress Free Work Environment

Belinda @ Kids Matter
“Chronic stress at work can lead to physical ailments from minor skin irritations all the way up to life-threatening conditions like heart disease.” Angie Mansfield
STRESS!! Ugh… one of the most horrid words ever uttered. Who doesn’t have some sort of stress on a daily basis? Suddenly, you find your mind bouncing to a memory of that one always happy, bubbly person in your office. The one, who on some days, just makes you cringe because there is no way anyone could be that happy all of the time. Well, what if I tell you there is a way to make that feeling possible for you? Would you jump on the band wagon? Ok then, ‘hike up them pants and get to running’ because the band wagon doesn’t stop for you! Removing stress is not about bringing life to a halt. It’s about making changes in your daily activities that promote the energy to cope with stress. The simple fact of the matter is that stress will always be a factor in our lives but it does not have to be crippling and it does not have to impact our job performance.
There are two options in determining how to best deal with stress. One, the easiest, choose to not deal with it… just go on living a life that could possibly put you in the hospital with a life threatening illness. Or, two the better option, decide that today is the day things are going to change and exert the effort to make it happen. A good deal of the stress we encounter at work is brought on by ourselves and can be eliminated or greatly improved. Other contributing factors are, for the most part, out of our control. So, if you can’t do anything to change factors not in your control it would then stand to reason that the stress factors you can change must be attended to immediately.
Organization and personalization
Have you recently thought or proclaimed aloud in a state of panic, “my desk is a disaster”? Clutter is a huge stress contributor. An unorganized work space will cause loss of focus and productivity. If you spend 30 minutes looking for a file, then you have just wasted 29 minutes of your valuable work time. Take a look around your work space. Given the old adage we like to use on our children… “A place for everything and everything in its place”… is your office clean and organized? Is everything in a place that is easily accessible according to your specific job needs? Is a drawer you frequently access in the third row, fourth drawer down, of file cabinets down the hall behind another set of cabinets? If your office is not set up to optimize job performance, then consider reorganizing it. Discuss with management how the organizational issues are contributing to your stress. Develop a plan together to improve your work environment. Remember, organization in your office is not only applicable only to the physical office, but also the digital space on your computer. Having a clean, organized file management system on your computer will greatly reduce stress. Searching for the electronic file is just as frustrating, stressful, and unproductive, as searching for the physical file.
Imagine that you have just had an upset client leave your office. You’re emotionally drained and your shoulders are contracted up around your ears. Panic sets in. What do you do now? Go to your happy zone. Create a space in your office that is filled with things that make you smile and relax. Create a bulletin board with pictures of your favorite people and things. Take a small box that would fit nicely in a not-so-crowded drawer and fill the box with trinkets that trigger fond memories. If you have a smartphone, create a “happy zone” folder and drop files in it that fill your heart with joy such as pictures, quotes, videos, and music. Pull it out for viewing as often as needed but be cognizant of time spent in your happy zone so that it does not impact job performance.
The whole point of a stress free environment is to make you feel better while allowing for improved productivity. We are all individuals with different stressors. No one knows you better than yourself, so take a moment to analyze what stresses you out and what makes your whole world seem at ease. I actually had a friend who was given the task of reducing stress in her job. That task stressed her out. Every job can be stressful if we don’t know how to cope with stress. All the ideas to treat stress could be listed one by one, but will do no good unless we truly want to change ourselves. Aspire to be inspired for change is a good thing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Little Big Wig

By BA @ Kids Matter
My student teaching experience gave me the opportunity to work with and learn from some very good teachers but I learned the most from the children.  My second grade classroom was a typical public school class. The children were a mixture of different levels of learning, a wide variety of personalities, different family backgrounds and rich with diversity.
On my first day I was outnumbered by 30 to 1. I struggled to remember everyone’s name and connect it to a face; there was one student who caught my eye.  She sat in the second row, about four seats back, and was a little African-American girl. She sat very still and spoke quietly. When I asked her name, she looked me up and down with a certain amount of suspicion. She had the biggest brown eyes that I think I have ever seen and I noticed that she had no eyebrows.  She was dressed in a skirt, a blouse that was half tucked, and tennis shoes. She looked just like a typical second grader…but there was something that made her different.  She was wearing a wig.
Now, this wig was not one for a child.  It was an adult wig; a black, bob cut, with bangs that would have fallen right at an adult’s ears.  On her it came to her collar, the bangs were practically to her nose, and were held back with two bobbie pins. Oversized was an understatement. 
This little girl never missed school. I couldn’t wait to see her every day.  She rode the bus to school and when she arrived her wig was always askew. Sometimes it was sliding off the back of her head, pushed forward or just generally crooked.  Once we got it straight, it stayed that way until recess.  After recess, it might be sitting half over one eye or slid over to one side.  It never seemed to bother her. 
Although she originally seemed quiet and reserved, I made a point to include her into lots of conversations during our lessons. She began to come out of her shell but she still seemed a little shy around me. I know teachers are not supposed to have favorites. Every child is special, but she was just so darn CUTE!  By the second week, we had bonded. She was always eager to help and accepted any task that she was given. She really started showing an improvement in her school work.  She was learning at her own pace.
One day, my supervising teacher shared with me that the little girl’s mother had put some kind of acid on the child’s head when she was a baby. That’s why she had no eyebrows or hair.  It had never grown back after the incident. That explained why the wig did not seem to bother her;  she was just used to wearing it.  What a tough thing for a child to have to go through.  This was something that she would have to deal with her whole life. I thought about her a lot, still do.
One afternoon after school I was sitting at the teacher’s desk and my supervising teacher was sitting at the table in the back of the room.  I was grading papers when the little girl approached my desk.  “Miss Rice?” I looked up. “Yes, sweetie, what can I do for you?” “Well,” she started slowly, “you know, um, well ummmm, I used to be afraid of white people, but I’m not afraid of you!”  And she reached up and gave me a hug.  I returned that hug with all of my heart, thanked her, smiled and straightened her wig. She ran out the door. That happened in 1972.  It’s funny how things stay with you. I wonder if she even remembers me.          
I think about that brief exchange between the two of us, how important that was to me and to her and how a true connection can touch your heart forever.  I also wonder whatever became of that sweet little girl. I hope that she grew up to have as big a heart as she showed me that day. We never really think about the impact we have on people throughout our lives.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Big Ears

By: BA @ Kids Matter
One day I was in the lobby of my local YMCA, where I was employed as the Executive Director. I was feeling very good that particular day because we had just finished a very productive board meeting. Everyone had shown up for work happy and the sun was shining outside.  In addition, I had just gotten a very new and very chic haircut. 

Now, everyone who knows me knows that I have always been particular about my hair.  In high school I had the popular blond “flip” with bangs and spent hours perfecting that flip.  Many nights were spent rolling my hair, using Dippity­-Do, sleeping on plastic rollers, then teasing and spraying until it was just right.  Later, in college I would come to love the kind of hippie “shag”; short on the sides and long in the back.  Somewhere in there was that Farrah Fawcett layered look, too.  At one point, when my children were little, I wore it pulled back in a ponytail and always wore a ribbon that matched my outfit.  Oh, yeah, and then there was the “bobbed cut”.   I do try to stay on trend! It took me a long, long time before I would let just anyone touch my hair. I searched and searched for someone who I could trust and I had finally found a beautician who I loved.

Anyway, as I said, I had just gotten a new haircut and was feeling pretty darn good about it. It was very similar to the popular Princess Di cut; short, sleek and a little bit sexy.  I was standing in the lobby talking with one of the members. It was pretty crowded that day and we were very deep in conversation when I felt a gentle tug on my skirt and heard a little voice interrupting with, “ Mrs. Allen…Mrs. Allen?”  Then louder……”Mrs. Allen!”  More tugging….  I looked down into the precious face of one of our little preschoolers. His class was on the way to the gym with their teacher.  “Yes, Jim, what can I do for you?” I asked.   In a voice that I will never forget, he announces to everyone within earshot……“Mrs. Allen, you’ve got really BIG EARS!”
Silence fell as everyone tried not to burst out laughing and waited to see what my reaction was going to be.  I looked down, held back my own laughter and simply said, “Why yes, Jim, you are so right!”  And off he happily went to play in the gym.  So much for feeling good about myself and my new hairdo!!
I still wear a similar version of that haircut to this day and always remind my beautician, “Not too short over the ears”. 
Kids-You just gotta love them!!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

From The Director’s Chair: Job VS. Career!

Julia @ Kids Matter
Have you ever wondered why you got into Early Education? One of the first things you do in class upon starting your collegiate road is you write why you wanted to be an Early Education Major.
Well, why do you? It’s certainly not for the pay. It’s certainly not because one would think, ‘hey, this job will be cake!’, and it’s defiantly not so that you can constantly smell like boogers and green beans! So what is it?
I will tell you what I wrote in my ‘Why I Am An Early Education Teacher’ essay from my first semester in college… the knowing that I was making a difference in a child’s life. To know that one day, the things that you have taught them in circle time will help shape the type of students they will be. Or the manners you insist upon them displaying will one day help shape them as adults.  
So, how does one hire those who want it as a career vs. just a job? Some of you may worry about your payroll budget… I get it! I know that it is much easier to hire an employee anywhere from $7.25 - $8.50 per hour and reserve the bigger payroll for your lead teachers and administrative staff. My advice is simple… College Kids! College kids who are majoring in Elementary Education, Early Education, Family Counseling, Social Work, etc. are the perfect recourse for what you want to achieve in your classrooms without having to face the dreaded payroll budget dragon!
Advertise with the College Newspaper, or in the building where they teach any of the majors listed above. These are kids who want a career with children, and working in a daycare can only further them on their path. They are studying the latest in education and social emotional development, and could bring with them a new way of learning and teaching! Who knows, maybe one day when their college days are over- they could be a lead teacher with your center, and you had a hand in helping them succeed.
If you don’t have a college in your area, you could always check your local high school for students who are on the Work Study or Co-op Programs their senior year. They go to school half the day in the morning, and work in the afternoon. Naturally, per most State Laws until they turn 18 they can’t be left alone with the children, nor do they count in children/teacher ratio numbers. Perhaps a position where they can float between rooms and help teachers during harried times like lunch, snack, potty training, or diaper changing could be a huge help until they are of age and can close down a classroom for you.
Craigslist is typically free in most areas. There are a few MAJOR cities that charge fees to advertise for quality help. However, Craigslist statistically has more views than any of the major job seeking sites. So if you are in a major city that charges, it is very well worth it!  
But let’s not forget you can ALSO advertise with The Child Care Council for free! Find the quality staff you want with CCC. Please feel free to advertise for all available positions at,
Happy Recruiting!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Free-Choice Learning

Belinda @ Kids Matter

Can you imagine a world where the only things we ever learned were what we were taught in school? Never having been a history buff, the year 1492 is now just the memory of a rhyme about something Columbus did. Yes, that something was very important to America but nonetheless, it was 521 years ago and didn’t encourage my desire to learn about history in the least. What inspires you to learn? Do you have a compelling urge to learn, seek fulfillment, or explore? What drives you to quench that thirst for new information?
Personally, I can’t imagine living a life knowing only what I know at this very moment. Life is about living, learning, and aspiring to fulfill one’s self. Learning is exciting, adventurous, and yes, even scary at times. Albert Einstein said it best, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” It is wisdom that feeds are minds and fulfills us. In order to acquire wisdom a person must be receptive to learning. To learn we must recognize that we have formal learning in a school setting and informal learning in the world around us. Given that a mere portion of our lives, roughly 10-20%, is spent in a school setting it is only reasonable to conclude that the opportunities of the world are our greatest teachers in life.
Working off a theory based on the elements of choice, control, and personal identity promoting learning in an informal setting, Dr. Shawn Rowe and Mark Farley from Oregon State University developed a study named after a term they defined as, “Free-choice learning”. This term is defined as all the learning we do that takes place out in the world, not in a school setting. Through the aid of a grant from the National Science Foundation they built a lab to monitor and record how people choose to learn. This can be compared to a learning museum; a hands on facility where instead of just looking at a picture or statue you interact with the exhibits.
A most inspiring way to promote family time would be partake in free-choice learning as a family unit. Many of us have done this for years and weren’t even aware that this is what we were doing. How about that family vacation where you took the kids spelunking? (Spelunking is cave exploration.) You got out as a family and learned about the world around you. Instead of your child sitting in a classroom viewing pictures of stalactites in a science book, you introduced them to the real life thing and had a phenomenal time doing it. I’m not saying learning in a school setting is not important because it very much is and is the basis for which we begin our education. I’m just saying that if I had been on the ship with Columbus in 1492 it would have been a much more exciting, educational, and memorable event for me. Kick it up a notch… add some spice to your learning by injecting life experiences. Start with a book on caves then visit one. Bring learning to life and allow the report card to be the smile on your child’s face.