ECA Blog

How do you color your world?

I have always enjoyed drawing and art in general.  When I was a child, my mom made sure that I had the opportunity to express my creativity through art experiences.  Whether it was creating masterpieces with crayons and paper or sculpting farm animals with play dough, art was always part of my childhood.


As a Kindergarten teacher, mom understood important benefits of art in early development.

  • By holding paintbrushes and learning how to control paint, crayons, scissors, and other art tools, children gain the fine muscle and eye-hand coordination skills necessary for later writing activities.
  • By using different sized shapes, mixing colors, and talking about their artwork, children can make connections to math, science, and language.

As a parent I want to share my love of art with my children, and in doing so, my four-year-old son has loved art experiences since he was a toddler.  When he was younger, we used pudding painting, bath crayons, large crayons, and no-mess markers.  Around the age of two he picked up a pair of kid-friendly scissors, and to this day one of his favorite activities is to “cut” scrap paper – old magazines, newspapers, junk mail, etc.  I truly believe that his early experiences with art gave him the fine motor skills necessary to help him to hold a pencil correctly and use scissors like a pro at preschool.   I will admit that I am comfortable having “messes” in my house and willing to allow young children to have scissors; however, I know that not all parents are.  I urge you to try it and let your child have these memorable moments.  Put a table cloth on the table for messy art time.  Give your child a pile of scrap paper and allow him to color, cut and create to his heart’s content.  You can set boundaries and still allow your child to have fun exploring art.

A couple of years ago, Hank’s grandparents gave him a plastic tub with paper, scissors, tape, rulers, and markers as a Christmas gift.  That was his favorite gift, which he continues to use on a regular basis, and now he has several designated boxes in his room just for his creative streak – – a scrap paper/cutting box, a sticker box, crayon box, marker box, and supply box with scissors and other accessories.   He also has a table and trashcan where he can create his projects.  This is his area where he is in charge of what he does and has the ability to express his independence in a safe way.

You too can create an art exploration box for your child with a plastic basket filled with all types of kid-friendly supplies, many that are available at the dollar store or around the house (such as empty paper towel tubes and old magazines). Have a designated space where your child can use the basket, and let her create whatever she wants, mess and all.

Have a Great Week!


What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

When I am dressing up or playing in the Dramatic Play Area, I try on various roles to help me process and understand my world. I am developing my social skills and ability to play with others, while using my imagination and being creative.    – Child Care Lounge


I remember playing “school” as a child and knowing that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  Then the next day I played “farm” and I knew I wanted to be a farmer.  The day after that it was an astronaut, etc.  Each day was an exciting new adventure and an opportunity to explore a new job to do when I grew up.  My imagination was my guide, and play was my tool.

“Play is the most important medium for development and learning for young children, aged birth to eight years.” – Ann Barbour, professor of early childhood education at California State University, LA

Play is how children learn to communicate with others and interact with the world around them.  A child can try new things through play in a safe way.  Play is the medium where children start exploring writing, reading, math, science, movement, and other skills that are essential in school readiness and success.  One tool that teachers and parents alike have used to enhance children’s play is the use of prop boxes.

Prop Boxes—plastic bins or cardboard boxes filled with materials and props related to one topic, such as math or writing. The boxes contain hands-on materials (books, toys, etc.) to explore, play, and learn about specific topics.

When I taught preschool I loved to use prop boxes.  It is a great way to organize materials by themes.  You can rotate the boxes in and out of the classroom so that you always have “new” materials for the children to explore.  Today, there are many child care providers that benefit from prop boxes that are available through the Early Childhood Alliance Lend.   Each month the providers get new books and materials to add variety to what they regularly use with kids.

You can make prop boxes too!  You just need a box to put materials in and a theme.  Prop boxes can be on any theme, such as camping, beach, post office, or farm; your imagination is your limit.  To help with materials to add to the prop box, check out this link to an article, Questions to Consider When Choosing Materials for Prop Boxes by Scholastic. .

The prop boxes are also a great way to link the dramatic play area in your child care program or home with other areas in the learning environment.  For instance, a bakery prop box might contain materials to set up a bakery in the dramatic play area, such as chef’s clothing, pots and pans;  books about baking for the reading area; a game about baking for the math area; art activities with food pieces for the art area, and a bakery truck and wooden bakery building block for the block area.

Looking for ideas to enhance your dramatic play area for children?  Here is a list of some Internet resources about prop boxes:


Have A Great Week!


Selecting Quality Child Care

What do I look for in child care? Is a home or center the best option? How do I evaluate the environment and the caregiver? Who can help me find what I need?

Finding quality child care can be a difficult task, especially for new parents. All parents want to make the best decision, the best choice for their children. And choosing child care is important because it can have a significant, long-lasting impact in a child’s life. There are many options, not only for young children, but also school agers. So the search process can be both time-consuming and confusing when it comes to meeting a family’s needs.

As one of nine Child Care Resource and Referral agencies in Indiana, Early Childhood Alliance (ECA) provides assistance for parents looking for child care by providing a list of child care options, free of charge. Families and child care providers in Allen, DeKalb, Elkhart, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Marshall, Noble, St. Joseph, Steuben and Whitley Counties can contact us by phone or visit our website for child search and child care information.

In addition to a list of child care providers, we also offer tools to help with that search process, such as important questions to ask and things to watch for when interviewing a potential provider to be sure health and safety standards are met. ECA also provides additional assistance with referrals for infants and toddlers, and children with special needs. We also suggest questions about other aspects of child care: adult to child ratios, safe sleeping arrangements, and a learning curriculum that helps prepare children for school.

Look for Quality Indicators to help find the best child care for your child.  The following information will help parents decide on their own what level of quality a child care program is providing for your child.


Adult to Child Ratio

  • Infants – 1 staff to 4 infants
  • Toddlers/2 years – 1 staff to 5 toddlers
  • 3-4 years – 1 staff to 10 children


Group Size

  • Are your child’s needs being met?


Caregivers’ Qualifications

  • Do they have the credentials/experience with working with children?
  • Do they/staff receive annual training?
  • Does the program participate in Paths to QUALITY™?


Learning Environment

  • Do they have age appropriate activities for the age range that they serve?
  • How are they preparing the children for school?
  • Do they encourage parent involvement?


Safe and Healthy Environment

  • Is there always someone present with current CPR and first aid training?
  • Is the environment clean and safe?
  • Do they provide a safe sleep environment for infants?

For a complete list of additional quality indicators, please review the publication from Child Care Aware – Is This The Right Place For My Child? 

ECA also covers information on Paths to QUALITY, an important tool that can help parents during a child care search. Paths to QUALITY is a voluntary rating and improvement tool, used throughout the state, to help families looking for child care. Programs that participate in Paths to QUALITY are rated, based on their quality of care. The system identifies four levels of quality, and each level builds on the previous one. At each level key aspects of quality are added as part of the standards being rated. To help identify participating programs, parents should look for information on ECA’s provider list as well as window decals and certificates at each Paths to QUALITY site.

Paths To QUALITY is an amazing tool to help you quickly assess Child Care Providers, Find Out More!   Parents may also visit  for more Paths To QUALITY information.


Additional Resources to Select a Quality Child Care Program:

  • Give Your Child Something That Will Last a Lifetime – Is child care something you need? Then this brochure can help. Especially if you’re looking for the one thing that matters most in child care – QUALITY. This brochure provides parents with five helpful steps to choosing quality child care. It also includes a checklist to use when choosing a child care home or center. 
  • Selecting a High-Quality School-Aged Program for Your Child – Concerned about after school care for your child? This brochure will help you in selecting a quality after-school program. It includes questions to ask yourself along the way as well as a checklist to refer to when looking at a specific program.



Quality Child Care and School Readiness

Resources to help you and your child care provider prepare your child for success in school:


Why Won’t She Follow Directions?

Do you ever get frustrated that your child doesn’t seem to follow directions?  Maybe the problem isn’t your child, but the way you’re asking.

In a recent email from ExchangeEveryDay, the following caught my attention:  “As adults we often forget when we are talking to children, that they think more concretely and process information at a slower pace than we do.   When we adapt our instructions to children’s levels of understanding, we are not talking down to them.”  This observation comes from David Elkind in his new book, Parenting On the Go.  Elkind offers tips to go along with this observation, such as…

  • Be specific.  Instructions should be short and clear…  One guideline is to use one word per age of child.
  • Because children process information more slowly than we do, it’s a good idea to give only one instruction at a time.
  • Accentuate the positive.  You will have much more success and much less frustration if you tell children what you want them to do rather than what not to do.
  • Phrase your instructions so as to tell the child what you want, not ask him or her to make the decision.

Along with his advice, another good tip is to let your child know that he/she did a good job after following your directions. Praise your child. The more you praise your child, the better the chances are that he/she will follow directions in the future.

I know this is advice that most of us know, but in the midst of parenting, we sometimes forget.  The most important thing to remember is – How You Ask Matters!




Have a Great Week!


Parenting and Mobile Devices: What You Need to Know

From Lanissa Maggert our Family Support Coordinator


Are you sometimes distracted by your mobile devices to the point of ignoring your children? It’s easy to do as we are instantly connected to family, friends, Facebook and more, everywhere, around the clock.

What kind of message does this send to your children?  If it has become a habit, you may be sending a message that the information coming through is more important than a child’s need to talk to you, to ask questions, to have your undivided attention.

Research has shown that relationship-based interactions — face to face — are how young children develop important social, emotional, language and cognitive skills.  These early skills are critical in preparing children for school and beyond.

For infant and toddlers, direct interactions provide lessons of trust; that is, adults responding to their immediate needs of food and comfort. And these connections are made throughout daily routines, including mealtimes, bathing, or running errands.

While no one knows the specific impact of a parent’s use of mobile devices during a child’s developmental years, experts do agree that the single most powerful predictor of a child’s vocabulary is the opportunity for conversations. A child’s brain needs regular interactions and conversations to stimulate brain development. Parents monopolized by their mobile devices more than their children are missing critical opportunities to be engaged. Over time, meaningful conversations decrease or even disappear.

A few simple guidelines on the use of mobile devices may help keep parents engaged with their children.

  • Set a limit on the amount of time spent on your mobile device
  • Put the device away during periods of time that children are interacting with you
  • Don’t allow the use of mobile devices during family time at home and away

The benefit of parent engagement is the positive impact on your relationships with your children.



  • How to Miss a Childhood:  Hands Free Mama Tells You Not Only How A Phone Can Let This Happen, But How You Can Grasp A Childhood As Well  

Planning a Dynamic School-Age Summer Program

I spent my past fourteen summers working directly for summer school-age child care programs, otherwise known as summer camp. I have worked the front-line as a Summer Camp Counselor followed by many more years as Coordinator and Director.  In all of these roles, I dabbled with being a nurse, referee, coach, entertainer and advisor.  My summers were dedicated to long days and long weeks-sometimes unbearably hot, sometimes ridiculously cold.  I was always exhausted by Friday afternoons and ready-to-go on Monday mornings. It wasn’t always easy and I learned something new every day. One thing I learned quickly about summer programs is that they are complex with a lot of moving parts. I came to realize that the key to a successful summer was having plans in place before the start of summer.

High quality summer programs include a wide range of academic and personal achievement opportunities that deliver positive youth development outcomes.  Planning this type of program requires reflection, strategy and time. It is best practice to plan several months before the summer to allow sufficient time. Or, use the off-season to plot the course for the upcoming summer. During this time you’ll reflect on the previous summer.  You’ll review feedback from the kids, parents and staff – maybe complete a program assessment yourself.  You’ll identify strengths and weaknesses and adjustments that need to be made.  At this point you’ll have boundless amounts of information and ideas!

SA_Summer__Planning_Timeline – This month-by-month timeline is a useful planning tool. It allows you to organize your work while keeping your focus in your program goals.

Here’s what you need to know about the timeline:

  • The process of planning, delivering and improving summer learning programs is continuous. Just as the summer ends, planning for the next year begins.  This timeline is year-round, January through December.
  • Customize this schedule to meet your needs; make it work for you. The timeline is a guideline. You may find that your program is ahead of this schedule or needs to play catch-up.  Some of the tasks may not apply to your program, or you may have tasks to add.
  • Compare this timeline to your work calendar and set due-dates for each task.  Hold yourself accountable. Directors and Teachers should work together on this.
  • Once your planning is underway, track and document your progress along the way so you can adjust next year’s planning calendar. (Get some tasks done way ahead of time, or allowing more time for other tasks, etc.)
  • Collect ideas and organize your plans in a binder, folders, or resource packets.

Here’s to a successful school-age summer program! Contact me if you need further support in planning your summer program or other school-age related needs. Watch ECA’s website training calendar and our on-line training newsletter for my mid-summer training, “Summer Survival Tips: Strategies to Stay Focused and Avoid Burnout.”


Karin Gilbert is ECA’s School-Age Specialist, serving Allen, DeKalb, Elkhart, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Marshall, Noble, St. Joseph, Steuben, Whitley Counties.  Karin has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University-South Bend and an Indiana Youth Development Credential.  She has 16 years of experience in school-age youth work.  Karin provides support for providers of SA programs to increase the quality of SA care. Contact Karin at 574-360-3070 or

How Are You Teaching Children to Love Learning?

Learning is so much easier when you want to learn and have the tools to do so (i.e. concepts and vocabulary). Therefore, it is easy to understand that at the foundation of the early education teacher’s job is to know where children are in their development and what they are interested in, and then extend that knowledge to establish and support a love of learning.

To that end 70 preschool teachers from across ECA’S 10-county service area recently attended ECA’s workshop, “Preparing preschoolers to become successful learners: A day devoted to literacy and math.” The day long program featured two early childhood professionals: Jan Sarratore, early childhood consultant/educator; and Dawn Cole-Easterday, former ECA trainer/center curriculum coordinator.

Throughout the presentations, the speakers demonstrated techniques that not only provided ways to introduce concepts, but also fit with Indiana’s Foundations to the Academic Standards for Children, birth to age 5.

“The Foundations include skills and experiences for a child’s development and address skills and competencies that children are to achieve from birth to age five. …they serve as a guide for educators to use in assisting young learners gain knowledge and skills in the early years that will prepare them for success in school.” 1

At the preschool level, teachers introduce concepts that will help children transition to the traditional activities and vocabulary of kindergarten. For example, preschool mathematics is much more than counting to 30. Through basic activities, children are learning number sense and operations, geometry, measurement, algebra and data analysis. However, those concepts are introduced through age-appropriate techniques, such as:

  • Using cardinal and ordinal numbers and symbols (zero, one; first, second; 1, 2, 3)
  • Understanding adding and taking away
  • Understanding that the whole can be divided and parts can be added to make a whole

Some of the strategies presented for making literacy visible were:

  • Associating writing with words
  • Adding writing to a picture story
  • Following printed words as a story is read
  • Representing action with drawing
  • Writing from left to right with strokes and shapes that represent letters
  • Correctly grasping a writing tool

Today parents, educators and community leaders understand the impact of early care and education more than ever before. And research has shown that a key determinant in early childhood education is the teacher/caregiver. Continuing education for early childhood teachers is critical in ensuring the best outcomes as children transition from preschool to kindergarten.

1 Indiana Department of Education, Family Social Services Administration. (2012). Foundations to the Academic Standards for Young Children Birth to Age 5.

Article reprinted from the past community newsletter.


Caregivers Teach Lifelong Habits

Obesity. Whole grains. Skim milk. Exercise. Consumers are bombarded with information regarding nutrition and exercise, However, it is critical that parents and child care providers know the basic guidelines. Child care providers are often responsible for providing as much as half of the food a child receives each day. Since the first few years of a child’s life are critical for brain development and growth, it is extremely important to help children form good, lifelong habits related to eating and exercise.

What can caregivers do to ensure healthy eating habits?

  • Serve a variety of foods that include all needed nutrients
  • Be sure fruits and vegetables make up about half of the meal
  • Serve skim or 1% milk for children over two years of age
  • Limit the amount of juice served
  • Make water available at all times
  • Use whole grain foods as much as possible
  • Vary protein choices to include some seafood
  • Check fat, sugar and salt content in all meals and snack foods

Involving children in meal preparation is a good time to talk about good food choices, not to mention teaching cognitive and motor skills through counting, measuring, reading, and following directions. And don’t forget to work with parents so that they can follow through at home.

Closely related to healthy eating habits is physical activity. Young children love to move, so use their energy in positive ways. They should be physically active inside and out at least two hours every day. If inside space is limited, plan reaching, swaying or bending activities along with marching or running in place. Incorporate soft materials for active play, including bean bags and under-inflated beach balls. Create age-appropriate manipulative equipment from household items: yarn balls, cardboard boxes, and sock puppets.  Use music for dancing and start-and-stop games or for cooling down after active play. For outdoor play, plan walks, field trips and yard games to encourage children to enjoy the many textures, colors and sounds of each season.

Throughout the day, parents and caregivers need to model the behaviors they seek to instill. Eat the same foods at the same time as the children. Sitting down with them is the best way for child care providers to show not only what and how much to eat, but also good table manners and positive ways to interact with others. Caregivers need to model physical activity as much as possible by demonstrating movements and games.  Throughout all play, encourage positive language, sharing and problem-solving. Also, incorporate different motor skills and cognitive learning, such as counting jumps and identifying colors of leaves. Above all, check all equipment and play spaces for safety hazards on a regular basis.

Children are developing a full range of skills from day one, so every experience is a  learning experience. Learning environments enriched with a variety of foods, manipulatives, and active play are key in laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy choices.

Have a Great Day!


(*Article reprinted from past Enrich Community newsletter.)

What Gifts to Give?

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and with it comes the holiday frenzy of purchasing gifts for everyone on your list, including those special young people in your life.  However, even if you do not celebrate the holidays, other gift giving occasions may cause just as much stress.   Buying toys for kids can sometimes be challenging, especially if you are confused by what to get.   A couple of questions for you to ask yourself when looking at toys are:  1) Is it age appropriate?  2) Will the child be interested in playing with it more than just one time?



For further questions and guidance, here are some resources that I have found very helpful.

  • Tips for Choosing Toys for Toddlers – Zero to Three gives ideas for choosing toys that will grow with your child, challenge her, and nurture her overall development (her thinking, physical, language and social-emotional skills).


Where Do You Eat Dinner?

When is the last time your family sat down to the table to share a meal?  If you are like my family, we have gotten in the habit of eating in front of the television, which I said I was never going to do as a mother.  This is not how I was raised.  My mom did everything in her power to make sure that we had dinner as a family.  I remember times when we packed up the entire meal and went to the field just so that we could eat with Dad.  It was a very rare occasion in our household if we ate like my family has grown accustomed to on a regular basis.

Well, that is going to stop right now.  Starting this week, I am going to reclaim the dining room table for what it was intended for and establish our Family Dinner Time.  This means everyone at the table together, no distractions (cell phones, video machines, television, computers, etc.), enjoying a meal together.

Research is beginning to show that eating as a family 4-5 times a week has great benefits for children.  Benefits can include improved communication skills, better manners, more nutritious meals, a broader pallet, higher academic performance, increased self-sufficiency, and more.

I know it is going to be challenge.  I am lucky that my children are young enough that they are not involved in all of the extra-curricular activities that steal time away from the family like baseball, dance class, piano lessons, homework, and on and on.  I hope if I start now and make this a “most of the time” experience that later on it will be routine and hopefully will not be as hard to initiate into our hectic lives.  However, I know that challenges will arise and we will have to face them head on.  There will be times when it will not be possible and that the family will not be able to eat together.  However, it is my pledge to my children that if it is possible and if I can make it happen, I will.  I also pledge to get my act together and plan out our menu so that we can be more conscientious of the nutrition that we are getting in our diet.  This will be a priority for my family and for the well-being of my children, my husband, and for myself.

Here are a couple of resources that I am using to help establish our Family Dinner Time:

  • The Family Table – Family meals strengthen and connect families.  We are your source for resources and support to help you eat more meals with your family so the children in your life reap the benefits.  The Family Table – make it a habit!  *From
  • The Family Dinner Project –   Most American families are starved for time to spend together, and dinner may be the only time of the day when we can reconnect, leaving behind our individual pursuits like playing video games, emailing and doing homework.  Dinner is a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s ups and downs, while developing a sense of who we are as a family.   *From

Won’t you join me in this journey by establishing or maintaining your own Family Dinner Time?

Have a Great Week!