Household Management Skills that Elevate Family Assistants and Nannies

Whether it’s part of a job or for yourself, managing a household is an important responsibility.

Whether it’s part of a job or for yourself, managing a household is an important responsibility. Many skills are needed, and these include managing a schedule, creating and implementing a chores list, shopping, and efficiently completing domestic tasks including cleaning, laundry, ironing, and sewing. Some people have a plan for every hour of the day while others enjoy living in the moment. Although the approach will differ for each person, having the tools to effectively manage the necessary tasks in our lives can help make them easier to achieve and reduce daily stress.

If you are working as a Nanny or Sitter, there may be confusion about the different roles and activities associated with your position. Some families assume Nannies are also household managers while these same Nannies may feel their role does not include any domestic chores and only requires supervising and caring for a child. For the purpose of this discussion, we will define the Nanny position as being responsible for the care of a child and the tasks associated with caring for a child which may include some directly related laundry, cooking, and cleaning.

Household managers, also called Personal or Family assistants, help keep the family organized and are responsible for the day to day operation of a home with tasks including running errands, supervising home repair, laundry, cooking, and cleaning. These tasks apply to the entire family, not just the portions associated with childcare. Thus, a family could have a Nanny, a chef, and a housekeeper. Another family may have a Nanny who is also the Household Manager and cleans the home. Some families may have older children and just hire a household manager. No matter the role, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the position and what will be expected by both the employee and employer.

What type of tasks are included in household management?

Busy families, especially those with two working parents, may hire household management help so that the free time they have can be spent with the children instead of completing the household tasks. These roles provide a huge value to the family as it allows the parents time to spend with their kids, in a less stressed and often, a more meaningful way. Household management duties can include:

  • Shopping and Errands. Completing the shopping for a family may require trips to a few stores including grocery, hardware, general, drug, and pets stores as well as dry cleaning. Errands may also include getting the car washed or dropping items off at a local donation center.
  • Transportation. Transportation may involve taking the children to and from school or other activities. It may also involve taking other non-driving family members to doctor appointments or social engagements. To provide these services, you must have a safe driving record. You may be provided with an automobile to use as part of your employment, or you may have to rely on your personal transportation. Whether you use your personal vehicle or one owned by the family, it is important to make sure that you keep the automobile fueled and clean. You may like the challenge of running on empty, but a family will not appreciate the time lost to stop at the gas station when a child is supposed to be at soccer practice.
  • Food and meal preparation. Managing meals and safely handling food is a life skill. Having a basic understanding of nutrition will enhance the ability to plan healthy meals and author a grocery list. This depth of understanding in nutrition can be gained from online college courses.
  • Housekeeping. Everyone uses housekeeping skills to keep their home clean and organized. These include cleaning, especially the kitchen and bathrooms, making beds, taking out the trash, and washing laundry. Family assistants should understand what cleaners can be safely used on different surfaces, how different types of clothing can be laundered, how to unblock a toilet, and other household skills.
  • House and yard maintenance. Most household management positions do not include appliance, house or yard maintenance; however, the are becoming increasingly common with family assistant positions. House maintenance will require the identification of repairs needed such as the dryer not functioning correctly, or that the sink is blocked. To remedy, family assistants should be able to contact the service company desired by the employer and arrange for repairs. The family assistant may also be responsible for being at the home when repairmen are scheduled to arrive and collect any paperwork or invoices for work completed. In some cases, basic yard care such as cutting the grass and edging may be included in the job description. It’s not reasonable that an assistant would know how to repair a broken lawn mower so make sure the equipment is in good condition and serviced regularly. Similarly, if a large tree has died and needs removed, this is a task for a professional.
  • Pet care. Pet care will depend on the type of pet, but activities may include providing food and water for that pet. Walking a do or cleaning cat litter boxes are also common household management pet care tasks.

What is the most important task when managing a household?

If you are working for an employer or a family in a position that has you paying for family expenses, it is vital to clearly communicate how the money will be managed. Clarify how and when employer money can be used as this is very important to make sure the employer is the decision maker for how their funds are spent. For example, an employer may agree to pay for all grocery and fuel expenses that are directly related to approved tasks. Make sure to provide receipts that itemize all expenses.

Make sure you clearly understand when and how to use employer money so you can be confident and comfortable with managing the money allocated. Families may allow meals to be added if a mealtime occurs as part of a child event, such as buying lunch at the concession stand during a baseball tournament. It is never appropriate to use employer money for your personal items or expenses – these should be paid from your salary, not employer cash.

There are several ways to manage expenses including developing a petty cash process. Petty cash can be actual cash provided in advance or a pre-paid credit card. It is vital that every purchase made with employer funds is tracked with a receipt. You should be able to account for and provide documentation for every cent. This means remembering and keeping all receipts from the dry cleaner and all the stores. At least every two weeks or less, you should provide an expense report to your employer that lists the amount of money spent, date of transaction, and items purchased. The report should total the amount spent and the amount of funds remaining.

To learn more, a Household Management course is available with enrollment in the Specialist Childcare program at AmsleeInstitute.com.

4 Foundational Skills Parents Need for Successful Positive Discipline

We want to help children grow, learn necessary social and life skills, and become healthy members of society.

Parents and caregivers have a lot of work when it comes to raising happy and well-adjusted kids. We want to help children grow, learn necessary social and life skills, and become healthy members of society. To do this, one of our crucial jobs is to help shape kids’ behavior in proactive and positive ways. How do we do this? We use of discipline.

Most people just think of punishment when they think of the word discipline, however, the act of discipline is to teach and help shape socially acceptable behaviors through both positive and negative actions. Positive Discipline is a child rearing philosophy that focuses on creating a respectful and encouraging environment in which children grow into productive members of society. There are four fundamental elements that are critical for creating a successful environment for Positive Discipline.

1. Build a strong relationship with the child. We need to keep in mind that good discipline is based on trust and the quality of the relationship between the parent or caregiver and the child. Children often respond better to caregivers who they feel understand them. If a child does not feel that you are invested in their well-being, they are much less likely to respond cooperatively to your directions and questions. Most kids inherently want to do the right thing, and all kids are going to have bad days. If you can start with a mutual foundation of respect, and a genuine goal to understand what the child wants or needs, then problematic situations can often be diffused early.

Strong relationships build respect. Kids often look to their caregivers for cues of how to behave, so it is important to model the behavior you want to teach to the child. If you don’t want them to raise their voices, then you need to keep a calm, quiet voice even in stressful situations. If you want a child to sit at the table during meals and interact with each other instead of their electronics, you must also participate and set aside your electronics. Children are always paying attention and notice how you handle your feelings and social situations. It is important that you remain calm and respectful.

child doing artwork

2.Be prepared to actively listen to the child. When you can accurately identify how a child is feeling, the child feels heard and understood. This helps build a close relationship and it also helps the child build their self-understanding and self-regulation skills, a person or child’s ability to manage their emotions and behaviors. Critical to helping children feel understood and learn to self-regulate are parents are caregivers who can actively listen. Active listening involves focusing on the conversation and being receptive to what is being said.

Active or reflective listening skills help children become more self-aware of how they are feeling, how they react to different situations, and it also builds their feelings vocabulary. To use reflective listening, listen closely not to just the words the child is saying, but also the feeling being expressed verbally and non-verbally. Identify the emotions and feelings the child is expressing. Repeat or reflect those feelings back to the child using their own words or by paraphrasing. This communication skill helps you as a caregiver to better understand what is behind a child’s behavior and how better to intervene, if needed.

woman and child in desert

3.Be clear when talking to children. We cannot assume that kids know what we know or expect when it comes to behaving. Children are not mind-readers and often struggle to pick up cues around them for what is the right thing to do. It is our job to prepare them and teach them what is expected in different situations.

We need to be clear about expectations and desired behavior in advance, especially if it involves a new or potentially stressful situation. Talk to children about what they might see or hear and how you expect them to behave. Allow them to ask questions and give answers as best you can in response.

When giving directions, keep your words clear and simple. Young children cannot follow a long string of requests and so break things down into small steps and make sure they understood before moving on. Kids’ developing brains are easily distracted and they are often not skilled in tuning out multiple distractions. Help the child learn how to focus their attention. It can help to give the instruction, then ask simple and straightforward questions to make sure they understand.

woman doing art with child

4.Choose your words and strategies carefully. As part of our quest to encourage positive behavior, the words we use with our children matter. We tend to use the word ‘no’ quite a bit in attempting to shape behavior. It’s easy and clear. However, using alternative methods such as distraction or redirection techniques can sometimes be more effective than a simple ‘no’. We need to keep in mind a child’s developmental level when shaping our responses and our expectations for their behavior.

It can be helpful to show kids what is okay instead of an undesired behavior or response. Distraction and redirection are two examples of effective strategies as an alternative to just saying “no.” In distraction a child’s’ attention is diverted to an unrelated item or task from the unwanted behavior. If two children are wanting the same toy, it may be useful to distract one child with a different toy, especially if they are too young to grasp the concept of taking turns. Another example of distraction may be useful when shopping with a younger child. If the child begins to get ‘antsy’ waiting in line at the grocery, the caregiver or parent could utilize storytelling or counting games to distract the child. In redirection, a child’s negative behavior or reaction is steered to more acceptable behavior. For example, if a child is throwing balls or toys at another child’s block tower, they could be encouraged to start throwing the ball into a basket instead.

The above four elements are key when setting up a strong foundation for successful positive discipline. There are additional techniques that can be a part of this process (natural or logical consequences, positive and negative reinforcements) but without the foundational elements above, successful discipline is likely to be challenging. It’s key that we develop and nurture a respectful and trusting relationship with the children in our care. This relationship must include clear communication with the child that involves clear and concise expectations as well as active listening. It’s important choose your words and techniques carefully to best illustrate the types of behaviors that are desired.

Discipline can be a sensitive topic. It needs to be consistent and age appropriate – no matter who is caring for the child. If you are childcare provider that is not the parent, it’s very important to have an open and ongoing dialogue with parents about their philosophy on discipline so that you can work together as a team to help set the children in your care up for the best success possible for a positive future.

Dr. Lauren Formy-Duval

To learn more, a Positive Discipline course is available with enrollment in the Basic Childcare program.

About the Author: Dr. Lauren Formy-Duval is a faculty member of Amslee Institute. She is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Durham, NC and has spent over 15 years helping to strengthen children and families.

Daily Activities to Increase Gross Motor Skills in Children

Gross motor skills are necessary for children to develop physical coordination, cognitive development, and emotional regulation.

Children love running, jumping, and climbing! These are not only fun, but vital to their physical development. Physical activities that use large body movements are considered gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are necessary for children to develop physical coordination, cognitive development, and emotional regulation. These are essential skills that help children build long-term health. Many of today’s children spend most of their day indoors watching a screen or sitting at a desk. These activities can limit gross motor skill development. Parents and caregivers should make a focused effort to ensure that children are experiencing enough of these critical movements.

The CDC recommends that children get a minimum of sixty minutes of physical activity per day (1). Currently, only 1 in 3 children get the recommended physical activity every day. Children need to participate in a gross motor activity to develop neural pathways in the brain. These neural pathways affect long-term bone density and coordination in the body (2). Gross motor activity also releases endorphins which have been shown to help the development of emotional regulation skills and improve mood.

As caregivers, it is our responsibility to make sure that children are having their needs met. At least an hour a day of gross motor activity is needed to ensure optimal physical and cognitive development. This activity does not have to all happen in one chunk of time. It can be divided up throughout the day – perhaps two thirty-minute activity breaks, or ten minutes at a time of concentrated movement. There are ways to fit this into the daily schedule for all ages.

Baby sitting with teddy bear

Allow newborns to have free movement of their arms and legs for a few minutes at a time. Make sure they also have time on their stomachs and encourage them to move. As they get older and begin to crawl and cruise, games can be introduced. Get the child to chase an adult or roll a ball gently towards them. A ball or a desired object, such as a favorite stuffed animal, or brightly colored board book, can also be placed just out of reach for a newly mobile child and rolled farther for one that is cruising along.

Older children usually need a little more room to move. Even when it is raining, hot, or cold, children should spend at least thirty minutes outdoors. It is safe for properly attired children to go outside for twenty minutes at a time in temperatures as low as a 13-degree wind chill and as high as a heat index of 100 degrees (3). Caregivers should be alert to signs that a child is too cold or overheating.

It is essential for adults to join into the activities with the children. Encourage toddlers and older children to run as fast as they can. Provide obstacles for them to climb on and over, and balls to throw, catch, and chase after. This keeps the children more enthusiastic in their participation in the activity. Studies have also shown that witnessing adults participating in physical activities with children increases a child’s confidence and increases the amount of gross motor activity they engage in as adults (4).

woman exercising with child

There are extreme temperature and weather days, and, honestly, days when we adults just can’t make ourselves be as physically active as we should. Setting up indoor activities can be an alternative to outdoor games and exercise. Without enough exercise, children tend to act out and may not realize why they are feeling or behaving in a different way. One idea for indoor play is clearing a space or hallway. Use this space to give stop and go commands and instruct children to take giant steps, hops, or run if the space allows. Painter’s tape can be used to create a hopscotch board or a maze. Yarn can make a fun obstacle course for children to wade through. Using soft balls or aluminum foil balls, children can play throw and catch. Targets can be made using painter’s tape, a wastebasket, or a pile of pillows. Preschool and elementary aged children enjoy Simon Says or playing with a blown-up balloon. Speaking of balloons, a paper plate makes a great “tennis racket” for indoor play (5).

Children want to run, jump and move. Keeping their health and development in mind, caretakers should encourage this play and find opportunities to allow and promote gross motor skills development. Reducing screen time means handling sad faces and temper tantrums, but it is important to keep in mind a child’s long-term health. Another benefit of these activities is that exercise helps children with self-regulation and managing their overall mood throughout the day.

To learn more, an Understanding Children course is available with enrollment in the Basic Childcare program.

  1. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Be Active, Healthy, and Happy! U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2008.
  2. Bass, S., et al. “Exercise Before Puberty May Confer Residual Benefits in Bone Density in Adulthood: Studies in Active Prepubertal and Retired Female Gymnasts.” Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, vol. 13, no. 3, Jan. 1998, pp. 500–507. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1359/jbmr.1998.13.3.500.“
  3. How Cold Is Too Cold for Kids to Play Outside.” A Healthier Michigan, 21 Dec. 2016, www.ahealthiermichigan.org/2014/01/28/how-cold-is-too-cold-for-kids-to-play-outside/.
  4. HHS Office, and Council on Sports. “Facts & Statistics.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 26 Jan. 2017, www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html.
  5. G, Anna, et al. “Indoor Gross Motor Activities for Preschool and Kindergarten.” The Measured Mom, 6 July 2018, www.themeasuredmom.com/indoor-gross-motor-activities/.
  6. Hnatiuk, Jill, and Kylie Hesketh. “What Is Physical Activity in Early Childhood, and Is It Really That Important?” The Conversation, The Conversation, 30 Sept. 2018, theconversation.com/what-is-physical-activity-in-early-childhood-and-is-it-really-that-important-63403.

Teaching Toddlers Self-Regulation Skills

With strong parental relationships and feedback from their surroundings, children can build and grow self-regulation skills that serve them into adulthood.

As December rolls in, it’s an exciting month for children who anticipate holiday foods and time with family. Although exciting, toddlers also face anxiety from changes in schedules and meeting new people.

Although we are not born with self-control, we are born with the ability to develop self-control. With strong parental relationships and feedback from their surroundings, children can build and grow self-regulation skills that serve them into adulthood.

What is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation is your ability to manage your feelings, thoughts, and reactions. It starts with identifying how you are feeling both emotionally and physically. At a given time, you need to be able to answer the question, how am I feeling? Am I sad or happy? Am I tired or hungry? By understanding your current state, you can decide how you want to respond. If you are angry, then you can take some breaths or step out of the room. If you are tired, you can to take a nap or if you are hungry, you can grab a snack.

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How to Teach Toddlers Feeling Words

When we see a child fussing, we often say that he or she is feeling upset. To help build self-regulation and a better understanding of feelings, though, parents and caregivers should build a vocabulary of feelings words. Sharing your feelings or the feelings of others can help toddlers learn happy, excited, sad, mad, scared, sick, or worried. For example, “Do you see that little boy? He is crying. He must be sad. I wonder why the little boy is sad?” To help toddlers learn about their feelings, help them put their feelings into words. For example, “You are mad. You are mad because your sister took the toy away.”

The ability to understand and name feelings helps children problem solve. When a child knows how he or she is feeling and what is wrong, then they are more likely to come up with an effective way to manage the situation. A young girl who knows she is sad because her parents are at work, can go hug a favorite blanket or toy as a coping skill.

How Toddlers Build Coping Skills

The toddler years mark the emergence of autonomy and the growth of independence. As they are more active and aware, toddlers can often become overwhelmed by all their thoughts and decisions they need to make. Even relatively small decisions for adults can become a huge stressor for a child – which shirt to wear, what toy to bring, and where to sit can all feel like monumental decisions to a Toddler.

child with teddy bear

There are many ways that caregivers can help build coping skills in toddlers. First, focus on the basics – sleep, nutrition, and environment. Lack of sleep, being hungry, or being overstimulated can cause rapid changes in a toddler’s mood. Maintaining predictable and stable routines helps toddlers develop inner regulation. Predictability and structure provide a framework and set expectations for the toddler’s day. This predictability helps the toddler understand what is going to happen next, so they develop inner regulation. For example, being on a regular eating schedule helps a toddler manage hunger feelings. It also helps them begin to understand the length of time.

Separation anxiety coincides with the cognitive growth where toddlers begin to realize that their loved ones exist when out of sight, but they do not understand time or the ability to know that their loved one will come back. Children often cope by latching on to a transitional object or a lovey. Typically, these objects are soft and snuggly items that a child will integrate into his daily activities and they allow him to feel connected to the loving care he gets with his parents throughout his day. I highly encourage caregivers to allow children to keep these items close by during the day. If for some reason it is problematic for the lovey to be by a child’s side, it needs to be in an easily accessed place or part of the room and the child should be allowed to go to it whenever needed. Loveys are a comforting bridge between being fully attached to a caregiver and being independent. Toddlers who can connect well to a lovey often cope better during disruptions in their usual routine.

child playing with ball

Toddlers experiment, learn cause and effect, and develop problem solving skills. Parents and caregivers can encourage this process by talking about things that might cause stress. Coping mechanisms for high stress situations may include having the child looking away while getting a vaccination or thinking of something fun that will happen later after the discomfort has passed. Toddlers can also start learning about proactive plans by talking about what to do if he gets worried while he is at daycare each morning. In addition, toddlers can learn some basic calming techniques such as counting to 10 or even taking some deep breaths.

Self-regulation builds in the toddler years as their brain continues to mature and their mobility allows them to have increasing impacts on the world around them. Toddlers are active explorers of their world and they are eager to touch and see everything! Though they tend to still be impulsive, they are better able to make behavior choices based on the feedback from their surroundings and their caregivers. They are increasingly able to observe what behaviors make their caregivers happy or stern and change their behavior based on that feedback. They also tend to judge actions based on whether they will get in trouble rather than if it is the right thing to do.

To learn more, a Self-Regulation course is available with enrollment in the Advanced Childcare program.

 

 

Dr. Lauren Formy-Duval

About the Author. Dr. Lauren Formy-Duval is a licensed psychologist practicing in Durham, North Carolina. Working with children and families for over 15 years in schools, hospitals, community agencies, Dr. Formy-Duval is currently in private practice and is also an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute.

 

 

 

How to Help Children with Homework

Heading back to school, children may have anxiety about their new schedules and how to manage their homework.

Heading back to school, children may have anxiety about their new schedules and how to manage their homework. After becoming a teacher, I finally understood the benefits of students completing homework. Homework is designed to help students review key concepts and provide extra time to practice new skills.

Homework should be a review of what the student learned in class that day and is intended to be completed with little assistance. It is important for students to practice what they learned in class before coming to school the next day when the lessons likely expand on the skills. Therefore, if a student doesn’t complete his or her homework, not only will their grade suffer but they will begin to fall behind in future class lessons.

child studying

Since homework is intended to be completed independently, what is your role as a childcare provider? Your role is to facilitate the student’s learning as they complete the tasks assigned by his or her teacher. If written homework is not assigned that day from the teacher, students are still expected to practice reading and math skills. As a childcare provider, you will need to facilitate this practice by focusing on math activities and daily reading. You may need to have workbooks or create flash cards and math games.

Here are 5 factors to help students with homework:

Organizing the Environment

An important success factor is an organized and quiet student environment with all the needed supplies available. Student should have a hard surface to write on and a more comfortable spot on the floor or couch for reading. If the child likes to move around a lot, a clipboard can be used to write on. If the child likes music, keep the volume low to make sure that the environment isn’t distracting the student.

clockTime Management

On average, homework should take 10 minutes per grade level. So, if a child is in 2nd grade, they should have 20 minutes of homework and if they are in the 4th grade they should have 40 minutes of homework a night. In reality, homework may take longer or a shorter amount of a time depending on the student. A child may be below grade level in a subject and need more time to complete the work.

Have the child work as much as they can before taking a break and allow the child to complete whichever assigned homework assignment they want to do first. If the child is having a hard time staying on task, set a timer for 10 minutes so that the student can see it. If a child is struggling on a problem, have them skip it and come back to it. Some schools require 30 minutes of reading a night in addition to assigned homework. This can be independent reading or partner reading depending on the age and skill level of the child.

Working Independently

It is very important for the child to complete his or her own homework independently. Homework is created to be a practice of the skills learned in class. If the student does not fully understand the homework, you may need to provide some assistance, but you should never do their homework for them. You can help the child by asking them to do the best they can and reviewing their work when they are finished with each problem. It is okay for the child to have to struggle a little bit. Remember that it is practice.

child making paper collageManaging Emotions

Try to put yourself in the child’s shoes. They have already been at school all day doing work. They may have had a great day or a bad day and this can influence their mood in the afternoon. Plus, not understanding how to do a task can be frustrating. Be patient with the child and try to gauge their attitude when you greet them and ask them how their day was. While working with the student give positive words of praise and reinforcement. Instead of “good job” use more direct words of reinforcement such as:

  • I like how you took your time on that problem
  • Great job remembering to do______
  • I like how you went back and corrected the pronunciation of that word

Taking Breaks

Children may need a break between homework assignments but be aware that some children may use this as an opportunity to avoid completing work. Keep breaks limited to 5 minutes and under 10 minutes of they are getting a snack. Continue to tell the child how much time they have left and use a visible timer. The following are great ideas to help a student clear their mind before refocusing:

  • Take a restroom break
  • Have a snack
  • Take a power walk around the room or hallway
  • Get up and stretch
  • Play a quick game of Simon says

Remember the age of the child and what attention span is developmentally appropriate. K-2nd students will have a much shorter attention span than 3rd grade and up. Keep this in mind when you are giving students breaks or pushing them to finish a task.

A childcare provider is a very important person in a child’s life and education. Children need assistance and a childcare provider with the proper training will be able to facilitate the student’s learning. By organizing the learning environment, being aware of time management, helping the students work independently, managing the child’s emotions, and providing appropriate breaks, the childcare provider will provide the needed assistance to help their charges complete homework and be prepared for the following school day.

To learn more, a Helping with Homework course is available with enrollment in the Advanced Childcare program.

About the Author: Chelsea Herndon has a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education and Educational Specialist in Elementary Education both from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a certified teacher in grades pre-school through 6th grade. She was previously an elementary teacher in Alabama and Washington, DC and is currently a doctoral student at Auburn University.

4 Fantastic STEM Activities to Explore with Young Children

STEM incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math with hands on learning and problem solving.

STEM incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math with hands on learning and problem solving. STEM lessons are important to help children develop problem solving and strategic thinking skills. Before sharing 4 activities, let’s discuss 4 steps to use with children in addition to the hand-on activity to help facilitate their learning. Going through each of these steps will help the child better understand the lessons in each activity.

1. How can this activity used in the real world? Why does this experiment or activity matter in their world?

2. What is the problem? Why do you want to find an answer?

3. Conduct an experiment. Gather all the materials needed and guide the student through the process. Don’t do too much for the child as the learning is in the investigation. Let the child come to their own conclusions.

4. Reflect on what happened by asking questions. When the activity is complete, ask the child what they built or how it worked. Let the child reflect on the science behind the results and have them explain it in their own words.

Now we will look at four specific examples of STEM activities. Each activity will identify the question that the child is trying to answer. Then you will see a list of materials needed for the activity. There are also directions to help you guide the child through the activity and ways to encourage the child to go a little deeper into the topic and learn even more. Here are 4 STEM activities for young children that are easy to do at home using household items.

fingerprintScience Activity – Comparing fingerprints. Everyone has fingerprints and that’s what makes us unique! This activity allows children to investigate their own uniqueness and how their fingerprint compares to others.

Objective: How does my fingerprint compare to other finger prints?

Materials: Clear tape, black construction paper, magnifying glass, pencil and paper

Directions: Help children investigate their thumbprint with a naked eye as well as with a small magnifying glass. For further investigating, place a piece of tape over child’s thumb. After removing the tape, place it on the black construction paper. Continue this process with each child in the group and yourself, too. Have children talk about what looks the same and what looks different on each print. Then, have the children draw what they see.

Extra Engagement: You can extend this activity by having the children observe and compare prints on their other fingers and even their toes. You can also expand how fingerprints compare to other items such as art, patterns, and shapes.

popsicle stick catapultTechnology Activity – Popsicle stick catapult. Simple machines are all around us and we use them for everyday activities. A lever is a simple machine that consists of a bar placed on a pivot to move heavy loads.

Objective: How can you move the marshmallow using the provided materials?

Materials: How can you move the marshmallow using the provided materials?

Directions: Help children build a lever, deciding which of the materials they need and how many of each. Continue to have children use trial and error strategies until they are able to catapult the marshmallow.

Extra Engagement: Add straws, paper towel rolls and other materials to modify and create new catapult designs.

roller coaster racing carsEngineering – Roller coaster racing cars. Roller coasters zoom downhill faster than uphill or on level ground but by how much? This activity visualizes different speeds depending on the slope of the ride and can be applied to riding a bike down a hill or watching a ball roll away.

Objective: How do different ramp slopes impact a car’s speed?

Materials: Matchbox cars, cardboard, tape, paperback books

Directions: Help children create two different ramps with the provided materials. Have them create ramps with varying inclines. Roll each car at the same time and let the child see which car rolls the fastest.

Extra Engagement: You can extend this activity by providing varied materials, such as PVC piping, plastic cups that are cut in half, and other round objects.

marshmallow and pretzel shapesMath – Marshmallow and pretzel shapes. Children love craft projects and this activity is appropriate for most children. They can get very creative at discovering how many shapes they can make by simply hooking things together.

Objective: How many shapes can be created with the provided materials?

Materials: Pretzel sticks (or toothpicks), small marshmallows

Directions: Show the child how to connect the pretzel and marshmallows to create shapes, using the marshmallow as the meeting point of two pretzels. Have the children count the sides and points to categorize the shapes (square, triangle, etc.)

Extra Engagement: When a child masters simple shapes, extend the concept by creating 3D shapes.

These activities are just a starting point! Conducting these 4 basic activities will lead to many more questions from curious minds. While children are investigating, question them about what they’re interest are. Use these interests to lead the child into the next activities. If an activity is too difficult for a child, ask yourself what the child doesn’t know that is keeping them from participating in the activity. Provide the child the knowledge that they are missing and let them continue investigating. Remember that STEM is everywhere! If a child has a question about the world we live in, there is likely a STEM activity you can do to investigate it.

To learn more, a STEM course is available with enrollment in the Intermediate Childcare program.

About the Author: Chelsea Herndon has a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education and Educational Specialist in Elementary Education both from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a certified teacher in grades pre-school through 6th grade. She was previously an elementary teacher in Alabama and Washington, DC and is currently a doctoral student at Auburn University.

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