ECA Blog

Provider Appreciation Day

Typically the 2nd Friday of May is set aside to celebrate child care and early education providers.

This is a special day to recognize child care providers, teachers and, other educators of young children everywhere. It is also a great time to celebrate the important providers in your child’s life, or to celebrate other individuals you know who are working with young children.

I am so grateful to my son’s preschool teacher and the dedicated staff of individuals that surround him at his early learning program.  Each day they provide a stimulating, loving, educational environment that allows him to thrive and succeed.  I try my best to thank them on a regular basis for all of the little, unseen things they do to enhance my child’s experience.  Hank has grown so much under their care and guidance this year, but I know that thank you doesn’t begin to let them know how important and influential they have been in his life.  Also, as a teacher I remember how many additional hours are put in behind the scenes preparing, rearranging, organizing that all goes into making the classroom experience meaningful.  I know the same goes for a child care provider whether in a home environment, or in a center setting.  What you do each and every day makes a difference in the lives of children!  Thank you for being an active participant in the lives of the children that are entrusted to your care.

Ideas to help celebrate these special individuals from include:

  • Send flowers, cards or a handwritten note of appreciation
  • Prepare and deliver a healthy meal or snack.
  • Work with your child to create a special remembrance
  • Buy something for your provider’s play area
  • Key in on your provider’s hobby and buy an appropriate gift
  • Hang banners or posters
  • Purchase a new piece of equipment in honor of the day
  • Provide a scholarship for an early care education conference or workshop
  • Plan a parent/provider picnic
  • Send a press release to your local newspaper

Recognize the hard work and dedication of our child care and early education professionals, not just this day, but EVERY DAY!

Have a Great Day!


Is it really important for my child to play outside?

Summer is almost here and that means it’s a good time to go outside and enjoy the weather.  But kids should get the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors year-round.

Outdoor play has a tremendous influence on all kinds of development, from physical and emotional to social and emotional.

  • Being outside encourages lots of movement including running, jumping, throwing, catching and skipping.
  • Being outdoors requires kids to use their touch, sight, sound, scent and even sometimes taste, along with their major muscle groups.
  • Outside play is typically more unstructured and inventive, not only leading to increased cognitive development, but teaching social skills and building self-confidence.

So to answer the question – YES it really is important for children to play outside!

Warmer weather usually means more time outdoors.  However, don’t forget to keep kids safe!   Sometimes it is not safe to play outside due to the heat.  Child Care Weather Watch has information on when it is comfortable to go outdoors to play, when you should use caution, and when it is dangerous.  The pdf does a nice job of explaining the differences of each level and addresses both warm weather and cold weather.  Great reference if you are in the least bit unsure.

Another good reference is the CDC article Make Summer Safe for Kids. Read about ways to keep your family healthy during the summer.

Have a Great Week!


Screen Free Week

Do you worry that your children are watching too much television, playing video games, or using tablets and computers?

If you do, then you are not alone.  I too worry about my children.  When Hank was little I was very diligent and did not allow him to watch much television, and we didn’t own a tablet.  Since he is older, I find that I have become much more lax in my restrictions and therefore my daughter has been exposed to screen media at a much, much earlier age.

Screen-Free Week  –  This is an international celebration where children, families, schools, and communities spend seven days turning OFF entertainment screen media (work and school assignments not included) and turning ON life! It’s a time to unplug and play, read, daydream, create, explore nature, and spend time with family and friends.

This year my family is going to observe National Screen Free Week.  As a family we are not going to be watching television and videos, or playing games on tablets or computers.  I am also only going to be using the computer for work, and therefore while I am at home this means that I am not going to be engaging in Facebook, or using my smartphone to look on Pinterest.  My husband has been urging us to start limiting the media our children are exposed to and this is the week we are going to start and get serious.  Here are some important reasons why we are participating:

Did you know?

  • On average, preschool children spend 32 hours a week with screen media! (TV, computers, video games)
  • Screen time for children under 3 is linked to irregular sleep patterns and delayed language acquisition.
  • Toddler screen time is also associated with problems in later childhood, including lower math and school achievement.
  • The more time preschool children spend with screens, the less time they spend engaged in creative play – the foundation of learning, constructive problem solving, and creativity.
  • Children who spend less time watching television in early years tend to do better in school, have a healthier diet, be more physically active, and be better able to engage in schoolwork in elementary school.

I don’t expect this week to go off without a hitch. Unfortunately my kids are used to being able to watch a beloved show in the afternoon, or play on the tablet every once in a while.  What this really means is that Mommy needs to be prepare and have activities ready for during the day that don’t involve the television, videos, tablets or computers such as going to the library, doing crafts, cooking together, singing songs, reading books, making and completing an obstacle course, and much, much more.  In the evening when Daddy gets home, we are planning on having a game night, a puzzle night, storytelling night, and if the weather permits, a family walk night and a family bike ride night.

Check out the  for ideas on how your family can participate!

Have a Great Week!



Sandbox Fun

This morning I was watching my two kids having a wonderful time playing in the sandbox.  Hank is using his construction toys to scoop up sand on one side and move it to the other.  Faith is having a blast using a shovel to scoop sand into a pail and then dumping it out when it is full.  It made me smile seeing how happy they were exploring, and it made me remember the fun I had as a child with my own brothers. Do you remember playing in the sand as a child?  Whether it was at the beach or in your own backyard, sandbox fun has been a staple in childhood.

Since Hank was little he has loved to play in the sand, and now that she is old enough, so does Faith.  By chance, we have neighbors that gave us a HUGE sandbox for our backyard to use during the summer.  We are also fortunate that my brother gave us a big tractor tire sandbox for our garage to use on a rainy day and during the cold weather.  And if that wasn’t enough, we have a tabletop sandbox (just a tub with play sand inside) that we use inside as well.  Needless to say, not a day goes by in our house without one or more of the kids playing in a sandbox.

I don’t mind the sand traipsing in from outside or the garage since I know that sand play promotes an abundance of learning and skill building opportunities.  When I was teaching preschool I always made sure that we had either sand or water play available for the children each day to enhance development in many ways:

  • Physically through eye-hand coordination and fine and gross motor skills.
  • Cognitively through creativity, investigation, observation, problem solving, and expanding math, language, and science concepts.
  • Socially through cooperation, sharing, taking turns, communication.

Sand play can also be emotionally beneficial to children.  I know that when my son is upset, sometimes sandbox time is just what he needs.  Playing in the sand calms him down and lets him work out his frustration.  It is a coping mechanism for him that really seems to work.


Making The Most of Sand Play from Early Childhood News – a good article called that explores the role of sand play in a classroom, the teacher’s role, and a nice list of suggested accessories for sand play.

Extensions Newsletter from Highscope – this issue contains great information on using sensory play (including sand) with children.


Have a Great Week!


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