Getting to be a better writer
By Afsha Kasam
I love to write. In fact, my LinkedIn profile will tell you that I relish the process it takes to become a good writer. I even started this blog so I could add even more writing into my job description!
Two things that help me write: an inspirational saying and yummy coffee
Despite my love for it, writing is difficult. Sometimes, what you mean does not look so great in written text. Or a friend was way too nice to you when you showed her a short story that you wrote...wait, that might have only happened to me.
Anyways, all jokes aside... for my final blog post at ECLC, I would like to share some writing tips that I have learned. These tips may seem straightforward. However, it's easy to forget the small stuff.
Reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing. Other people's styles and techniques will help you form your own. By the way, that is not a bad thing!
Write, write and write. Don't stop writing. Get all your thoughts out.
Then, take a break. Come back to what you wrote with fresh eyes. Some people will delete what they just wrote, while others will edit. Go with what works for you. Your second attempt is usually much better than your first.
3. Re-read what you wrote
I wish that I truly got to experience the typewriter. With a typewriter, one had to really think about each word before typing. You could not just hit backspace.
Typos happen to the best of us, so always go back and re-read what you wrote.
4. Ask for help
In college, I learned to ask writing tutors to look over any major assignments that I had. Their perspectives helped me shift direction. Writing tutors were honest. While your friends are great, they may not be the best editors. Don't be afraid to seek out the opinion of a good writer.
5. Recognize that everyone has a different process
For some people, writing happens in a busy coffee shop. For others, they need to be in complete silence. Everyone has their own process.
In fact, I wrote some of this blog post at home because time was unstructured. I felt more engaged with my writing by having the time to sit and think for a few minutes.
Well, that wraps it up! I hope these tips were helpful. I am grateful to everyone who has helped me while at ECLC. I will miss my job greatly, but know that graduate school will be full of learning... and writing!
Cultivating Love for the Outdoors
By Rachel Roberts
We're officially into the swing of summer, and that means it's a great (if not the only) time to take full advantage of the beauty of Upstate New York. For me personally, I grew up spending summer in the Adirondacks, spending a week with my grandparents in Schroon Lake, NY every year. My grandfather, rest his soul, taught me how to drive a boat, to fish, to identify birds and their unique calls. He taught me to genuinely appreciate hiking, camping, and cultivated my love of the outdoors.
The above picture is my most recent hike from French Mountain in Queensbury, NY. I struggled to keep pace and felt like walking back to the trailhead on more than one occasion; but when I reached the summit, and looked out at the sparkling water of Lake George, I felt that sense of accomplishment and pride. I realized that I had so much to enjoy.
However, the past two years of my life have been difficult for me in many aspects, and I've found that I have a very hard time getting myself to get up and go outside. This used to be something that was like second nature for me - even if it just meant doing something as simple as going to the Farmer's Market and walking around for a few hours. My bike and kayak have been sitting in storage collecting cobwebs and my hiking shoes have been neatly tucked away in a box in my closet. I miss the feeling of accomplishment that I would gain from hiking a mountain, and being rewarded with a beautiful view.
When it comes to mental health, it is not always easy to "just get up and get outside." However, I always find that I feel so much better when I spend a little time in nature. In part, I think that writing this blog post is a gentle reminder for me that I should get back to being active outside.
Once in a while, we all need a break from the stressors of everyday life. It's so nice to just step away from the screens that rule our lives. I feel much less anxious after a couple of hours or days with no cell phone service. Spending time in nature, listening to the world around me, and taking in fresh air and natural sunshine is wonderful. Sometimes, the first step to walking out the door can be the hardest, but the reward is well worth the try.
From the Field: An excerpt from Child Care Resources of Rockland's Executive Director Blog
By Vicki Caramante
The joy of a new child is unlike any other. Watching a new little person discover the world around them is wondrous - finding their feet, grabbing a finger, learning to sit, to crawl, to walk. Suddenly, they toddle about, at first unsteady then off sprinting to discover the larger world around them.
As parents, we want to provide the very best opportunities for our children. For many parents heading back to work after maternity and paternity leave, finding a child care program can be difficult, practically and emotionally. Searching for a child care program can be tough - not all child care programs accept infants and toddlers.
Fortunately, New York State has acknowledged that more needs to be done to not only support infant and toddler teachers with training and technical assistance, but that there is a need for more infant/toddler slots. So this year, New York State child care resource and referral agencies, including CCRR, have seen their infant/toddler program budgets triple!
This is truly wonderful news. The safety and security an infant or toddler experiences in those first years of life is the foundation for how they will learn as they grow. Entrusting the care of our infants and toddlers to a child care provider means finding someone in whom we have confidence, who will care for and nurture the child the way we would while having the skills and knowledge to support that foundational early learning.
Read Vicki's full blog here
The importance of awareness, support and treatment
By Jessica Klos Shapiro
May is Mental Health Awareness month and in particular May 5-11 is Children's Mental Health Awareness Week. This is always a topic in my household, as my husband and I both attend events and take part in the increased news coverage on the realities of mental illness.
Like myself, my husband is an advocate, and will talk to anyone that will listen about the importance of strengthening mental health policy and services. I attend many of his professional events and through his work, I have learned that awareness is more than reducing stigma. It's about increasing knowledge of services, recognition of symptoms of psychiatric issues, coping mechanisms and tools to both treat and prevent mental health crisis. This begins in childhood.
You may have heard of social emotional development. This is best defined as the process in which children develop the ability to express and control their emotions and maintain relationships with others.
While I am not an expert in childhood development, I am constantly learning about what we can do to emotionally support children as they are growing. This includes basic things such as being responsive to children's behavior, playing games that teach children about taking turns or asking them simple questions that provide them with choices in their routine.
We can teach resiliency and ensure that we are nurturing children as they grow. We can provide them with the tools to overcome adversity. However, this alone will not prevent or treat psychiatric issues. Genetics also factor in and we must be equipped to support the 1 in 5 children that will suffer a mental health disorder.
The first step is to recognize the warning signs, such as a child becoming very withdrawn, mood swings or significant changes in weight. If you see these signs, this is the time to call upon professionals for help. With proper treatment and supports there is great hope for recovery and successful management of mental health issues. Providing children with access to mental health services is an essential part of supporting their overall well-being and growth. When a child has the flu, we get them medical attention. This should be the same for a child experiencing a mental health problem. Teachers and child care professionals must learn to properly communicate their observed concerns to parents in order to ensure that children get the help they need. A truly supportive environment can make all the difference.
Some resources to learn more about social emotional development and treating mental health in children:
NOT "Because I said so"
By Donna Fredlund
Not too long ago, my son was lamenting that his two year old daughter was bossy, opinionated, and determined to have her own way. I reminded him that as parents, we should encourage our children to be strong minded and help them learn to make good decisions. One can think of it as training to be a responsible adult. We just have to nudge our children, beginning when they are young, towards that direction. In the process, we will have to deal with their relentless desire for autonomy. My son agreed, but also commented: "do they have to start being opinionated so young?"
When I was young, meaning until I was 18 and out of the house, my father did not "allow" me to have an opinion on much of anything. His responses were generally things like "Because I said so," "You are too young to know what you are talking about," "What do you want to do that for," "You don't know any better," "I'm tired of listening to you," and "You have no say in this." I promised myself that if I ever had children, this is not how I would communicate with them!
In my opinion, one of the most important things we can teach our children is how to take responsibility for their words and actions. Shutting down their thoughts and ideas because they are young and belittling them because "they don't know any better" is one of the most emotionally destructive things we can do as parents. Obviously, there are some circumstances where no discussion is needed; "stay away from the stove" or "wear your bike helmet." However, as children get older and are better able to express themselves, I believe saying "Because I said so" instead of having a discussion, discourages independence and acting responsibly. After all, how can they learn to successfully manage their own lives if you never give them the chance to explore the options? And make mistakes (within reason)? And deal with consequences? And most of all, learn to overcome failure.
When my daughter received 4 college rejection letters on the same day (she is now an M.D.) or when my son failed a calculus class in college (he is now a mechanical engineer and has a MBA), they were able to regroup and move on. Occasionally, someone will say to me "You must have done something right" and my reply usually is "They did the right things by themselves." And I think to myself: NOT "Because I said so."
My experience interviewing CACFP participants
By Afsha Kasam
Over the last couple of months, I have been fortunate enough to interview Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) participants. Through these interviews with providers, I have learned that the program works extremely well for them. Reading about CACFP and its facts does not convey the program's importance as well as a happy provider does.
During my interviews, my big takeaway was how successful this program is in supporting providers to deliver healthy food to the children in their care. An added bonus was the ease that the providers experienced when all of the children ate the same thing. CACFP holds the providers accountable for the children's eating habits, while also encouraging them to be creative with the meals and snacks they serve, striving to make the food child friendly.
One of the interviewees even said that she will use CACFP as long as she has her child care practice. She strongly recommends the program to any provider thinking about enrolling. Therefore, give it a try and if you do not like it, you can always cancel.
I still have more to learn about CACFP and am excited to be attending the Child Nutrition Conference in April so I can expand my understanding of CACFP. In addition, I hope to share the knowledge that I learn with you!
With these interviews and other CACFP initiatives, ECLC is encouraging providers to enroll. With that being said, please contact us if you or someone you know needs any assistance. We are happy to help.
Below are some CACFP resources:
By Abbe Hahn Hook
I was flattered when my colleagues asked me to write this month's blog about teaching children compassion. While I am certainly not an authority on this topic, I do feel I have approached my work for the past 25 years, as to both children and animals, with compassion and kindness. With adults, I admit this is more challenging for me as it is for many of us, but as role models for the little eyes and hearts who are always observing, we certainly need to show adults the same courtesy. I also strive, as a parent, to raise my own daughters to be compassionate family members, classmates and young citizens.
In 2018, J. Ronald Lally, from WestEd, The Program for Infant/Toddler Care, addressed a previous speech of his titled "A Compassionate Sense of Wonder." He describes this as not only providing children with self-confidence and intellectual curiosity but also with a deep connection to human beings and other living things. I love the image of all children that comes to mind for me when I hear those words. It definitely relates to current research and emphasis on early childhood practices focusing on social/emotional development for young children and on building resiliency skills to help them overcome trauma.
One of my favorite ways to help children build such a connection with others is through Humane Education. Pets are an important part of our family and our extended family. A home is not a home without a dog or cat for our family, and a love of nature and the outdoors naturally follows this. As children spend time with, and learn about, animals and the environment, this helps them to build that deeper connection with other beings and the living world around them just as Dr. Lally describes. This in turn helps them not only treat others with compassion but also to build respect for and be kind towards themselves. This is a path to resiliency.
So as we begin the month of February, traditionally and commercially celebrated as Valentines and love, let's also keep in mind this quote by Fred Rogers, "Every human being needs to be loved and needs to be able to love in return. That is what allows us to be human."
Check out the following for a few humane education resources:
Farewell and New Beginnings
By Renee Richman
The end of December marked the end of my time at Early Care & Learning Council as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I worked as the Program Associate in the Programs and Services team since March 2017. I have learned so much throughout my time at ECLC, I won't be able to fit it into one blog post.
A highlight of my time here was working with the Infant Toddler Coordinator, Jeannie Thomma on the Infant Toddler Newsletter. I was able to create a new segment: interviews with authors who had written books related to infants and toddlers. Through this project, I have spoken to several knowledgeable and interesting authors that have provided insight into the infant and toddler world.
Another great project I was able to help create is the Learning Café run by the Director of Special Projects, Fannie Glover. It started out as a book club, but morphed into a forum for us to share diversity, inclusion and equity information with our network and those outside of the network as well. We have had people come speak about mental health, discuss controversial news events, and have watched TED Talks to prompt discussion afterwards. It is a very unique forum that I hope to be able to tune into in the future as I continue my journey.
I will be leaving ECLC to pursue an internship at Girls Incorporated on Long Island. I am working towards my Master's Degree in Social Work and my placement will relate directly to what I want to do, which is to be a school social worker.
My time and experience with ECLC has allowed me to grow an incredible amount and allowed me to understand the importance of children's development, specifically how Adverse Childhood Experiences impact individuals as they grow. I was able to take a number of trainings on ACEs while at ECLC, including listening to Dr. Nadine Burke Harris speak at the annual ACEs Symposium in the Capital Region. I have used my knowledge regarding ACEs and child development in my studies and will continue to use it going forward as I work with elementary and middle school girls in facilitated groups.
I appreciate everything ECLC has done for me! It was a wonderful place to work and I enjoyed getting to meet everyone I was connected to through this position.
By Fannie Glover
I was recently asked to write ECLC's December blog and thought about how cool it would be to write about people of color in early education. Then something happened to me at work and in my personal life, both had to do with communication. You see, I am an introvert who sometimes looks like an extrovert.
By the way, there are three times as many extroverts in the world as there are introverts. Again, I am a minority in another space.
As an introvert, we think about EVERYTHING before we voice it. Most of the time, I am telling myself to get it right (that's the script going on in my head). Introverts will sit in meetings and take everything in (conversations and body language), but often have little to offer to the conversation. Not because we don't have an opinion, but because the extroverts have moved onto the next topic before introverts are done forming our thoughts.
We are often perceived as anti-social, unfriendly, loners, inattentive, passive-aggressive, lack the ability to be team players, slow, or whatever the popular term for the day happens to be.
However in reality, we draw energy from within. We need to recharge (alone) and have mental conversations all day. We are not lonely. We like being alone, most of the time.
When extroverts share all their accomplishments and activities, they appear to be productive. However, introverts who have done the same will appear to be less productive because we do not speak about our activities.
I love it when people are surprised to learn that I am an introvert. Oh, I can perform like an extrovert. But from now on, watch me disappear after a large gathering to find a space to recharge before I fall flat on my face because extroverts have drained all my energy.
Think of us as batteries: extroverts' battery lives extend when they're around a lot of people (which doesn't mean that they do not occasionally enjoy alone time) while introverts' batteries are depleted when in a crowd for an extended period of time.
Introverts must find ways to speak up, plan for meetings by anticipating questions and mentally prepare themselves for the meeting.
Extroverts can work with us by seeking to understand us. If we are not sharing or talking, it doesn't mean we aren't listening or have an opinion. However, you may have to ask us what we are thinking or if we have any input.
To all the introverts reading this blog, you can thank me now.
Disclaimer: There are exceptions to all rules. Based on the spectrum, you may be an introvert who performs like a extrovert or vice versa. Or you may be an ambivert.
A link to additional information can be found here
Reflections on Mindfulness
By Jeannie Thomma
The month of November finds many of us consciously turning our attention and energy to being thankful. With this spirit in mind, I'd like to share a new practice we've been cultivating here at ECLC that fills me with a deep sense of gratitude. For the past several months, at the start of our staff meetings, we've been gathering to sit together in meditation. Every other week, before we dive into the business at hand, we dedicate five minutes to quietly focusing on our breathing. Each time we do this, we experience meditation differently. As we reflect on our experiences, we see a vast array of realities: one colleague speaks of a racing mind, another is amazed at how quickly the time seemed to pass, another couldn't stop fidgeting, two people report dozing off.
During this time that we spend together in meditation, we've agreed to observe just one very helpful rule: we'll engage in this practice without judging ourselves. Success is in the practice itself. So, when any of us silently catch ourselves caught up in thought during a meditation, rather than jumping to the conclusion that "this isn't working!", we practice simply returning our attention back to watching our breath. Ironically, we can know for sure that "this IS working!" when we catch our focus being interrupted by a thought...and mindfully shift our attention back to the breath. This is the essence of a meditation practice, and it's how we build our mindfulness muscles. Thoughts will return during meditation, they always do-this is the nature of the mind. Each time we redirect our thoughts back to our breathing, we are strengthening our practice. This happens one meditation, one experience, one breath at a time.
As we sit together every other week around our large conference room table, we are nurturing positive qualities of mind in ourselves, like compassion, patience, forgiveness and empathy. Every one of us starts from exactly where we are-there is no other way. Some days we may feel calm, or anxious, distracted, or joyful. Regardless of our mood, we sit. The next meeting, we sit some more. Showing up for ourselves and one another just as we are. The more time we spend connecting with our own breathing, the more we are able to enjoy our own company and that of one another outside of meditation time. As we nurture healthy mental habits in ourselves, like mindfulness, we grow more patient and our capacity to enjoy life expands. This is at the heart of our intentions-to grow as individuals who engage in compassionate connection with one another, in all that we do.
Regardless of what's transpiring externally, when a mindfulness practice is firmly rooted in our lives, we are able to experience more happiness, and our resilience grows. Rather than being caught in a loop of anxiety over past events or worrying about future what-ifs, we become more awake to the present moment, to this moment. We spend time in meditation so that we can experience our lives with more awareness, and more kindness. With that in mind, we can ask ourselves these two questions:
- What if each person we encounter is simply doing the best they can with what they've got?
- What if in each moment we could practice releasing judgement-of ourselves and others?
Meditation practice can remind us of our capacity to live from this space of awareness, and in so doing, teaches us to open our hearts to one another and live with authentic compassion. With this simple awareness, our experience of life can shift...and we can, in each moment and with every breath, choose to be thankful for all the details of our beautiful, messy lives.
"Mindfulness meditation doesn't change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart's capacity to accept life as it is." ~Sylvia Boorstein
Understanding Early Childhood Education As A Young Person With No Children
By Afsha Kasam
With the midterm elections coming up, it's difficult to explain the importance of early childhood education to someone who does not have kids. The key word there is "difficult."
But, not impossible.
When I was a child, I went to a Christian early childhood education center. As a Muslim girl, it was rather strange for me to be there. But, I don't think that I would have had it any other way. In fact, I wish that I was brought to this early childhood education center earlier.
I remember the first day vividly. My mother dropped me off and after she left, I would not stop crying. Eventually, I got tired and fell asleep on the floor. The next day, my mom told me I didn't have to go again if I didn't want to. But, I told her that I really liked the people there and wanted to attend this early childhood education center.
After that day, almost every day went by without a hiccup. I felt included with my Christian friends. The social component is what really made me thrive. I was no longer the shy girl who did not understand English. Without this early education, I probably would not have learned English so quickly.
Me at my early childhood center
But, as I stated previously, I wish I had early childhood education earlier.
My cousin's little girl had the opportunity to attend a school that focused on early development. I remember being shocked that such a little girl could swim.
My cousin's daughter's story could have easily been many other people's stories, but it isn't. The system is broken. Early childhood education should not cost a fortune.
My message for you today is to remind young people, as well as others, that they were once children. Remind them that there will always be children in the world. If we had the opportunity to go back in time, wouldn't we want to invest in ourselves early on? So let's do that for the next generation of children. Vote for early childhood education.
Third Time's the Charm
By Brooke Ricci
September marks Baby Safety Month. As a mother of three children, safety has always been something that has never been overlooked. Having two older daughters Olivia (15) and Mia (11), a lot has changed since the arrival of my son Brady (1).
After I learned that I was expecting, AGAIN, I began to make a mental list of everything that I needed. This list ensured that I had the safest items possible for my child. I wanted the nursery to be a secure environment for my child to grow and learn. I needed this area to be his safe zone and made sure the crib met the safety standards and that the mattress fit snugly. It's also important that nothing is inside the crib, especially bumpers and stuffed animals. This was all updated information since my daughters were born. Luckily, I work in the early childhood education field, where I came to learn all of this. But for those new moms out there, a lot of this information is now on the web!
Safety is not just for the nursery. I also had to consider safety for everyday items and developmental toys. What was going to be the safest car seat, stroller, etc? I made sure to check the most up to date recall list, to ensure that those items weren't listed. I also did a lot of research online to determine what the safest items would be.
Now that Brady is at an age where he is into EVERYTHING (see above), I need to make sure that every environment he may roam in, is safe...especially the kitchen. Kitchens are full of potential safety hazards, which is why I made sure to install child safety locks on all the cabinets and installed outlet covers throughout the entire house.
Believe me when I tell you, if I forgot anything, Brady reminded me of it! Thinking about a child's safety can be overwhelming, to say the least, but my child's safety is a priority every day, not just for Baby Safety Month.
Back to School as a Mom
By Ryan Belak
Back to School is one of my favorite times of the year for a variety of reasons. The excitement my kids feel at the beginning of a new school year is contagious, the familiarity of a routine schedule, and the comfort I feel as a parent knowing my kids are in quality early education programs.
I am the proud mom of two young boys: Brayden, eight and a half (the half is VERY important I'm told), and Jackson, two and a half. Brayden attends an elementary school near our home, and Jackson attends a center-based program three full days a week.
I relish the back to school time because I can have that peace of mind that they are learning, growing, and developing strong connections with their child care providers. The fact that I am able to go to work and not worry about the quality of my child's education is so vitally important.