Teaching with a mask on

When we decided to reopen in May of 2022, we put in place recommended Covid precautions, which included having all staff members wear masks.  

Most of our students have been with us for awhile and we knew they would be alright with us wearing masks but we had infants scheduled to start and we had some concerns about that. I spoke with other directors and with teachers and everyone was expressing the same concern. 

We worried that it would be difficult for them to get to know us and trust us with half our faces covered.  We worried that they would have a hard time with language development because they could not see our mouths to mimic our movements. I love having babbling conversations with infants and was worried that the mask might hinder that. Basically we worried about a lot of things but we knew that we had no choice, we needed to keep everyone safe, that was our first priority, so we needed to wear masks. 

There was no need for us to worry.  As often happens, we were not giving infants/toddlers enough credit. 

They have had no trouble getting to know us and telling us apart.  They can tell our faces by our eyes and eyebrow shapes.  They can tell us apart by our voices.  When a new teacher comes into the room and greats the little ones, their faces light up. 

They have not had trouble with language development. For one thing, they see their parents faces at home and can see their mouths move.  For another, they are adapting and focusing more on the  different sounds they hear than on the movement of our mouths.  I can still have babble conversations with the infants and while they can’t see my mouth as I make new sounds, they still try to mimic the sounds I make and laugh when I make the same sound they are making.

In the four months that we have been open, three infants have started in our program and there has not been any difference in how they have adjusted than infants in the past. 

We also have toddlers who are starting to mimic words and the masks don’t seem to be limiting their understanding at all. 

So, while wearing masks may not be ideal, it is not turning out to be the problem many of us thought it would.  

When you have staff who love their job and the children they care for, masks can’t hide that and the children know it. 


Not STEM, not STEAM but STREAM!!

 You hear a lot of talk about STEM education and about STEAM, I’m personally glad they added the A for arts because art is a great learning tool but neither of those are appropriate for early childhood for a couple of reasons. 

First, children are natural scientist, engineer’s, artist and inventors, all we need to do is give them the freedom to do so. So STEAM in early childhood should be naturally happening. 

Second, what is needed most in early childhood is relationships.  

Here at Birdsall House we let the STEAM happen naturally and we add the R to make STREAM through consistency in staffing and fostering respectful relationships from infancy on.  

By modeling caring respectful interactions we teach the children how to have caring respectful interactions, themselves.

I remember watching one of our students who was three at the time playing with a one year old.  She was using a blanket to cover and uncover the one year old and each time she would stop and say “did you like that? Do you want me to do that again?” which was met with a giggle indicating “yes”. 

Not only are the relationships between the children important but also the relationship between child and staff really matter.  When children feel safe with and loved by their caregiver, they feel free to experiment and explore, which leads to learning. 

There is one negative to building these strong relationship though, the same feelings of safety and love that allow an infants to explore, also allow a toddler to push push push the limits.  But we are ok with that, we know it’s their way of learning what is expectable and we feel honored that they trust us enough for them to push the limits, knowing they will always be kept safe and loved. 


Mixed ages, it’s only natural

One of the most unique things about Birdsall House is our mixed age group setting.  In a home, children are not usually born in litters and the younger ones learn from the older ones. Yet for some reason the traditional early childhood setting separates children by age. When you do find a program that has mixed ages groups they separate the infants and toddlers from the older children, in fact in Missouri if you have more than 20 children in your care, you have to have a floor to ceiling wall between these groups. When I found this out I was very disappointed and decided the benefits of mixed ages was so great that we will keep all our centers at 20 children or less.   

Here are the reasons I feel so strongly about letting our infants and toddlers interact with our 3,4, 5 year old’s and more. 

Children learn by observing and mimicking, if children are only with children their age, they will not be inspired as much as if they are with older children. 

Here we see a two year old being inspired to challenge himself by watching his 7 year old brother. 

Children develop a sense of family with their fellow students and the older children get the opportunity to mentor and take a leadership role. 

Children do not feel pressure to achieve a skill or reach a milestone.  Everyone is at a different place in their development. The children accept each other for where they are and encourage each other when they try something new.  

There is no better way to interest a child in learning than for them to see their bigger friends doing it. 

Not only do the children learn from and teach each other, they also stay with the same group of teachers from infancy to when they leave for elementary school. 

I can’t imagine going back to teaching in a single aged classroom, I see no benefit to it and would miss seeing magical interactions like this. 


The Job of a Toddler

Part one

I remember when I had my first toddler class back in the 1990’s.  One girl entered my class as a sweet agreeable toddler who had just turned one and was just starting to walk. In less than a month her mom was asking me “what happened to my sweet baby?”

Between the ages of one and four, children experience many changes, they learn to walk and talk and most importantly, they learn that they have power.

They have the power to express how they feel, they have the power to get what they want, they have so much power that they did not know they had before. 

Imagine you woke up one morning and discovered that you had a superpower, you would spend some time learning about your power, you would want to learn when and how to use it, how to control it, and just how far you could push it. In your attempts to understand and control your power, you might hurt other people; you might knock someone over as you fly by fast or startle someone as you run past.  You are not meaning to hurt them; you are not being mean; you are just not experienced enough with your powers to safely use them.  That is basically what a toddler is doing in those amazing and challenging toddler years.

This happens at different times for each child, just as all stages of development do.  I have known one-year olds who start testing boundaries and other children who do not start this until they are three.  No matter when they start, it is an important part of their development.  

They need to test the boundaries; they need to find out what happens when they take a toy from a friend or even when they knock another child down.  This is how they learn to use and control the power they have.  Some children push and test these boundaries for a short period and others will keep at it for months. 

This is one of the reasons why strong relationships with care givers is important.  Children need to know that they can push and push and test and test and still be loved and valued by their caregivers. Often the safer, more secure they feel, the harder they will test and push the boundaries. 

The important thing for parents and caregivers to remember during these times is that your child is not turning into a spoiled little sociopath and this behavior will not last forever.  It is also important to be consistent in how you respond to this behavior. 

I have found that the best strategy is to acknowledge how everyone in any given situation is feeling.  I recently had a two-year-old take a toy from a one-year-old.  The one-year-old cried for a few seconds and then went on to play with something else.  After watching to make sure the situation did not develop into a physical fight for the toy, I talked to the older child about what happened and about how the other child probably felt.  I did not force him to give the toy back, the other child had already moved on, I did not tell him that it was mean to take the toy, because he was not being mean, he was being two.  I helped him to understand how his action made the other child feel.  Will he take another toy, probably, will we have the same conversation twenty more time, probably? But if we consistently help him to understand the consequences of his actions, he will learn. 

There are many ways in which young children will test the boundaries, as long as you stay calm, stay consistent and talk to them, you will make it through and more than likely your sweet baby will come back as a sweet child. 

This toddler knows we don’t allow them to climb on the table but he wants to make sure we really mean it when we say “keep your feet on the ground, its not safe to climb on the tables.”


Learning from our children. 

Over the years I have learned many things from my students.  I have learned dinosaur and animal facts, I have learned a great way to easily describe a tornado and many interesting facts about different religions and cultures. Recently I have learned that not only do the students add to my knowledge of facts, they also provide some amazing life lessons. 

#1 Love yourself

It was a beautiful spring day and the whole crew was outside. I was sitting with a baby on my lap and many of our students around me. 

One of the children said “Ms Kelly, who is your favorite person in the world?” 

I said that was a hard question and I was trying to come up with an answer. Some of the children were helping me try to figure out the right answer. 

We decided that it couldn’t be one of them because I love them all.  It couldn’t be one of my own children because I have three and love them all equally.  One of the children said it should be my granddaughter because I only have one grandchild.  

I was ready to settle on that answer when a very wise 7 year old said “Ms Kelly the answer should be you, it is very important to love yourself.”  I could not argue with that answer and we then got into a great conversation about why self love is important. 

#2 Check in on your friends

Everyone was getting ready to go outside one morning, one of the children stopped to use the bathroom on the way out.  Another child got their coat on and was heading to the back door when she stopped at the bathroom door. I was prepared for a typical 3 year old interaction, perhaps she was going to ask when the other child was going to be finished or tell them that she needed in. 

I was not prepared for what she actually said.  

She opened the door just a crack and said “Are you doing ok?” to which the other child said “Yes, I am, thank you for asking.” 

I guess you could say I learned two lessons from this encounter, lesson one was the importance of checking in with our friends to make sure they are okay and lesson two was to stop underestimating how kind our students are.