Our Mission

Our mission is to enrich children's lives through innovative support, education and enhanced family and provider services.

Our program puts families at the center of a community of support services.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Literacy Begins in Infancy

Recently our agency learned about a reading program called Reach Out and Read, a literacy program which takes place in medical offices across the country. Physicians and nurses with the Reach Out and Read program share with parents the benefits of reading aloud- beginning in infancy. Babies who are read to develop stronger brain connections related to language, literacy and social-emotional growth. During the scheduled check up the doctor discusses with the parent the importance of reading to their child, models reading with the child, provides advice on what type of reading techniques are helpful at the child's current age, and provide a book for the child to take home.

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Reading aloud to children should be started well before preschool. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents and caregivers begin reading in infancy. The benefits of reading aloud to children are powerful and interwoven in its effects.

  • Reading aloud on a routine basis provides babies and children a predictable opportunity in which they receive the undivided attention of their parent or caregiver in addition to the physical and emotional connections they make with their parent or caregiver. 
  • Reading aloud provides children more exposure to child-directed language. Children who hear the most words directed at them during their earliest years, have greater receptive language skills (what they hear that they are able to understand). Children who understand a large number of words when they enter school are set up for success as they are able to comprehend what the teacher is communicating or requesting and they are able to listen and follow along with directions and academic instruction.
  • Children who hear the most child-directed words also have the strongest expressive language skills. Child who use more words are set up for success since they can share their point of view or feelings, negotiate their position, ask questions, gather information and in other words, successfully navigate in their world. 
  • Reading aloud to children also helps them become stronger readers which is a foundation skill relied upon and needed to meet most academic goals throughout their education. Having heard the word many time and being familiar with many words offers these children more experience to draw from when they see the written word. Having never heard the word makes learning to read the word more difficult.
  • Reading aloud exposes children to new words, ideas, beliefs, situations, cause and effect concepts, sequencing, perspectives and feelings, and so much more. Children often want to read the same book over and over again. While this may reduce their exposure to new concepts, sticking with the same book for what might seem like forever has its benefits as the level of understanding deepens with the familiarity of the words and concepts in their favored book.
Keep a flexible when reading with your child. Young babies may want to taste and chew, skip pages and only look at pictures. Rest assured they are learning about books during their reading time. They learn concepts like "Books open and close" "They have pages" "We hold books a certain way" top to bottom) "We begin a story to the far left." We turn the pages from right to left" "Words and pictures are different" "Written text can be decoded and spoken" "We read read from left to right and top to bottom on each page" "Each space between text separates words". "Sentences contain ideas."
So much to learn and explore about books and reading so you can see why it is important to allow children time to just manipulate books aside from time spent reading the story aloud.

While Reach Out and Read focuses on reading beginning at infancy, older children who are learning to read or are able to read for themselves still benefit from being read to. Reading together continues to offer both parents and children an opportunity to connect. Older children's reading levels are lower than what they hear and understand. When parent or caregivers read children longer books children are exposed to more complex ideas, experiences and vocabulary.Of course parents can still help children improve their own reading by switching roles and  having their child read to them,helping when needed. Also reading to your child or for yourself shows your child that you value reading and find it  see you reading to them as a desirable activity and a preferred way to spend one's time.

Visit Reach Out and Read for tips on choosing age appropriate books and age appropriate reading tips.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Changing "Lights" Jack O' Lantern

If you turn the back paper fast enough, the "lights" of the eyes and mouth will appear to flicker.

halloween crafts for kids, jack o lantern crafts for kids, crafts using brads

For this activity you will need:
jack o lantern template
orange paper
white, black, brown or green paper
paint (we used gold, white and yellow)
paint brushes, circle paint sponges or paint rollers
green marker, crayon, oil pastel, paint, glitter glue or paper for stem

Begin either by tracing and cutting jack o lanterns or having children paint the "inside" of the jack o lantern. Older children can trace and cut the template.

Children free painted with paint brushes, applied dots with foam circle sponges, and rolled a textured foam painting roll.

Be sure not to cut out the nose. We accidentally did on our template and had to train ourselves not to trace and cut the nose.

Find a circular object small enough to fit underneath the jack o lantern template but big enough to cover the eyes and mouth. We used a coffee can for our template which took up most of a piece of standard construction paper.

Place the dark circle beneath the jack o lantern and secure both with a brad where the nose would be.

Decorate the stem.....and start turning the lights.

halloween crafts for kids, jack o lantern crafts for kids, crafts using brads


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cranberries: Fruit/ Vegetable of the Month

Happy Cranberry Day!
Cranberry Day is celebrated the day after Columbus Day every year.

Cranberries are one of only three native fruits to North America; blueberries and grapes are also native fruits of North America. Native Americans used cranberries, which they called "sassamenesh" or "ibimi" dependent upon their tribe. The names meant "bitter berry" or "sour berries". Native Americans used these berries in many ways, most famously in pemmican. Pemmican is made of dried deer meat and fat along with cranberries making it incredibly "shelf-stable". Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C so pemmican helped fishermen and travelers avoid scurvy. Early settlers called this berry a "craneberry" because the blossom looked like the head of a sandhill crane.

 In the United States, Wisconsin grows more cranberries than any other state, providing more than half of the national supply. Cranberries don't actually grow in water. They grow on low shrubs which the growers flood the during harvest, allowing them to access the berries more easily than hand picking off of the long vines. For a science experiment, have children place cranberries in water. Healthy cranberries will float, rotten ones will sink to the bottom. Cut the cranberries in half and you can see their air pockets which allow them to float in water. The air in the cranberries also allows them to bounce! String them with a needle and thread with popcorn or cereal to make garland for your trees outside for the birds to enjoy. You won't want to do this if you have bears in your area, though; another name for cranberries are "bear berries".

Today, Americans enjoy cranberries as a relish, in a variety of baked goods such as muffins, cookies, quick breads and cobblers. Because cranberries are so tart, many recipes using cranberries have a great deal of added sugar.

To reduce sugar used try:
Baking cranberries with apples and cinnamon
Adding cranberries and apple pieces to wild rice, quinoa or orzo pasta
In a salsa with avocados, jalapenos, cilantro and lime juice
Roasting with carrots
Salads of lettuce, kale, spinach or shredded brussel sprouts topped with dried cranberries, roasted nuts and cheese
Serve dried cranberries on cucumber slices spread with ricotta cheese.

In the store, choose plump cranberries with tight skin, avoiding wrinkled berries. Cranberries will last up to 2 months in the refrigerator and 9 months in the freezer. Enjoy cranberries year round by using dried cranberries in your recipes.

We made Cranberry Gingerbread muffins for play group. 
cranberry muffins

We mixed-
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking power
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In another bowl we added-
3/4 cup water
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil 
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses

Add wet ingredients to dry just until incorporated. 
Lightly toss in 1 cup of cranberries cut in half. 
Place in roughly 18 muffin tins.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. 

If you are child care provider in California you can receive cash reimbursements for providing healthy food to the children in your care. If you are a child care provider in El Dorado, Alpine, Placer, Nevada or Mono county our agency can help you enroll in the California Child Care Food Program.

Recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables varies with age.
Children ages 2-3 need   1- 1.5 cups of fruits and 1- 1.5 cups of vegetables each day.
Children ages 4-8 need   1-2     cups of fruits and 1.5-2.5 cups of vegetables each day. 
Children ages 9-13 need 1.5-2  cups of fruits and 1.5-3.5 cups of vegetables each day.
Teens ages   14-18 need   1.5 -2.5 cups of fruits and 2.5-4 cups of vegetables each day.

Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables are rich in essential vitamins and minerals needed for optimum growth and development. Check out  CDC's fruit and vegetable calculator for an more accurate recommendation based upon age, sex, and activity levels.

Remember your plate.......

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spooky Watercolors & Shape Castles

haunted mansion crafts for kids

This is a simple two step project inspired by some watercolor art that looked like a spooky night sky....so we added spooky castles.

You will need:
Water colors
Paper (we used watercolor paper)
black, yellow and purple construction paper

Begin by painting with watercolors on paper. Set the stage by reading a story or talking about the dark night sky. Great books to set the mood are "I Spy Spooky Night" by Jean Marzollo & Walter Wick, "The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything" by Linda Williams, or "In the Haunted House" by Eve Bunting.

Here are the two pieces we started with.

We then cut some black squares and rectangles from black and yellow paper and isosceles triangles from purple paper.
Have your artist arrange them to create a castle and glue the pieces to the page.

Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Babies Need to Hear Words

Babies may not be able to talk back but they are listening and it makes a difference on the first day of preschool and stays with them as adults, influencing their career success.

In 1995 Betty Hart Ph.D. and Todd R. Risley Ph.D. published their research on language development in a book entitled  "Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children". They went into family's homes every month for 3 years recording every word uttered. Their research showed the amount of words babies heard were directly related to their future school performance and IQ as well as later career success. The children who's parents spoke the most words had heard 30 million more words than the children who's parents spoke to them least. This is now referred to as "The 30 million word gap". The researchers also noted that in addition to the number of words spoken by the parents, the variety of words mattered as well as the emotional content of the words.The kids who's parents spoke the most, with the most variety and gave positive feedback, had children with better language skills and a greater rate of growth in the area of language, with IQ's 1 1/2 times higher than the least talkative group by age 3 and knew twice as many words by the time they started school. 

Since 1995, research on language growth in babies has expanded exponentially. One researcher, Dr. Anne Fernald, at the Stanford Center for Infant Studies is researching the effects of child-directed speech using word pedometers. She has found the word gap to begin as early as 18 months. Her research shows that children in the lower socio-economic testing group at age 2 are where the high socio-economic group was at 18 months. What is reassuring is that the power to narrow this gap is in the power of words, which are free. The key is getting this information to the parents prior to birth or as soon after birth as possible so they can begin showering their baby with words. 

For the first two years of life it may seem odd to talk to someone who can talk back but rest assured, babies are listening. 

  • Language gains are made from speech directed at the child, not from words they overhear or television. Talk to your baby and turn off the TV. 
  • Be mindful of your child's non-verbal communication: see, observe, respond.
  • Take turns communicating. If you make a face or a sound, wait for your baby to take a turn and respond (verbally or non-verbally). Stay focused on your baby while you wait for her to respond during her turn. 
  • Narrate routines. Much of the life of an infant or toddler involves routines such as diaper changes, feeding, bathing. Add words throughout each and every routine. 
  • Use rich language. Dr. Fernald's research shows greater benefits from hearing rich and varied language with longer sentences. There is no need and no benefit to speaking in short sentences or labeling an object with one word. Instead of "car" add "That car is going fast." or some other rich description in context with the surroundings. 
  • Make connections about the environment to help develop stronger critical thinking skills. Compare and contrast items. Explain why things happen. Find creative solutions to problems. Make predictions. 
  • Ask open-ended questions, even if you don't expect your baby to answer with words.
  • Help babies develop self-regulation skills by commenting on how they might be feeling. 
  • Give babies the ability to communicate with words even earlier by using baby signs when you communicate. Babies will be able to communicate with signs before their ability to speak. The sooner you begin and the more often you sign while speaking the more your baby will benefit.
  • When reading books, be sure to allow time to create free dialogue about what is happening on each page alone, or in addition to the words on each page. 
  • Add a math component by talking about numbers and counting naturally as opportunities arise. 
  • Be sure to communicate using a positive tone and offering plenty of encouragement when your baby is learning new skills. 
Increased exposure leads to increased understanding.
Be sure all caregivers in your baby's life understand the importance of showering them with language.

First 5 California promotes language develop through Talk. Read. Sing.

From "The Economist" an overview of the 30 Million Word Gap

Dr. Anne Fernald shares her research.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Galaxy in a Jar

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Create your own bedside galaxy with a few low cost items.

You will need:
short, empty jar
enough corn syrup for the jar
glow in the dark stars
glitter (we used a combo of black, dark blue, and dark purple)

We added the glitter and stars last and although it is harder to mix in that order, it is best because you want to add a small amount of glitter at a time. Too much glitter will obscure your view of the stars.

Be sure to room plenty of empty space at the top of the jar for movement and be conservative with the glitter to start.

We had to strain some our corn syrup mixture in order to fish out the stars and then dilute with more corn syrup because we added too much glitter at first. The amount of glitter needed will vary with the jar size.

Too much glitter. Once it was mixed it was hard to see the stars. 

Much better, less is more!

Just a beautiful in the light....

and in the dark.