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Written by Christy Thalheimer, M.Ed., CCSA Child Care Referral Manager

It seems fitting that Child Care Provider Appreciation Day is recognized nationally on the same weekend as we celebrate Mother’s Day. We often think of one of the many early educator roles as that of a caretaker; one who offers safety, security, knowledge and compassion to children. When Parenting magazine polled mothers in a recent article about what gifts they wanted for Mother’s Day, the top 10 had nothing to do with something purchased. Instead, the top 10 had one thing in common: taking care of themselves albeit through a clean house, “off mom” routine for a day or a spa day.

A Gift for You

What if I told you I wanted to give you a gift this Provider Appreciation Day of better overall well-being and enhanced connections with your students? What if I told you this was possible without having to spend one dollar or attend another training? 

Welcome to Mindfulness! A simple practice of being present in the moment, with acceptance and openness. Mindfulness strategies can help reduce your stress, lower your anxiety and help you have a more positive and productive emotional state as a teacher.

By now, I am sure most readers have heard of mindfulness through reading a magazine article, a social media post or through mainstream media. It’s a growing trend in the early education field with research supporting practices that can reduce both emotional and physical distress. While mindfulness practices do not replace your health care routines, they can be a complimentary practice that benefit your brain, body and relationships. Learn more about Patricia Jennings’ mindfulness research with teachers at the University of Virginiahere.

The Gift of Mindfulness

I was first introduced to mindfulness in the fall of 2015 out of necessity for a graduate thesis topic and balance in my life. On April 1, 2015, I received the hardest news I have ever had to mentally absorb. My mom, my confidant and grandmother to my 5-year-old, received a diagnosis of cancer. Treatment would begin right away; it was a type of lymphoma cancer and in stage 4. I was devastated! We talked about the care my mom would need and how treatment would affect her life and ability to care for herself. Of course, I would be there through it all.

I worried though. I was a full-time working mother of a kindergartener who began graduate school in January on a time-limited scholarship and lived 1.5 hours away from my mother. Over the next few months, I juggled everything with great time-management skills, a flexible work environment and an understanding husband. Until, I couldn’t any more! I was “burning my candle at both ends.” I began to be snappy with my family, felt tired all the time, my body was showing signs of serious stress and my mind would never rest.

Then came a critical moment in my graduate school work—I had to identify a thesis topic. As a student in education, I had already been reading about breaking research around mindfulness in the education field. Then, I went to NCAEYC’s 2015 conference and I met Dr. Kathleen Gallagher. Her research at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute intrigued me and when asked, she happily agreed to be my internship supervisor. The research we conducted around mindfulness and learning to practice mindfulness was the answer to my prayers for my thesis and for being able to be present for my family.

Top 5 Mindful Practices

Here are the top five mindful practices I incorporated into my life. These practices are easy to build into your daily routine at home or in the classroom.

  1. Three Deep Breaths: This practice has helped me calm down when we have received upsetting news. It is also very helpful to teach a child this technique so they have self-regulation tools to calm down more quickly while reducing quick, shallow breathing.
  2. 5-Minute Mindful Breathing: This practice is very helpful as you prepare to address something that you find particularly stressful. I have used this technique for better focus before presentations. At home, this helps me become aware of my emotions before I respond to my daughter.
  3. Mindful Observations: This is a quick exercise you can do to ground yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed or to reconnect when you want to better enjoy a moment. I have been able to use this strategy to enhance the intimate relationship with my husband. 
  4. Body Scan: The body scan has been very useful for the many sleepless nights I had during my mother’s illness. I also guide my daughter through a body scan when she has trouble getting to sleep at night. (Works like a charm!)
  5. Mindful Moments: Repurpose everyday routines or activities into mindful breaks. This can include mindful walks, listening to soothing music, folding laundry, showering or drinking your morning coffee. Making any moment into a mindful moment can help you better enjoy the activity, just by changing your perspective.

I hope you find at least one mindfulness gift to use daily. There is a robust amount of research and resources available just by searching online. Take time this weekend to try these five simple strategies.

I can personally attest that building mindfulness strategies into my life helps me deal with anxiety (good and bad) in a more positive way. I have a better ability to slow down, enjoy life and regulate my awareness as well as be more compassionate with family members and colleagues. 

Marsha Basloe, President of Child Care Services Association

Homelessness is a reality for many families with young children in our country. In fact, infancy is the period of life when a person is at highest risk of living in a homeless shelter in the U.S. And families with younger parents are at higher risk of experiencing sheltered homelessness than families with relatively older parents. Adults between the ages of 18 and 30 in families with children were three times more likely to use shelter programs than adults over 30 who live with children (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2016 AHAR Part 2).

As president of Child Care Services Association (CCSA), I am committed to ensuring that all our young children have high quality early care and education experiences. CCSA works to ensure affordable, accessible, high quality child care for all families through research, services and advocacy. We provide free referral services to families seeking child care, financial assistance to families who cannot afford quality child care, technical assistance to child care businesses, and educational scholarships and salary supplements to child care professionals through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® and Child Care WAGE$® Projects.

More and more people understand that high quality early childhood care and learning prepares children to succeed in the classroom and in life. Yet, what may not be known is that the impact of homelessness on children, especially young children, is extremely challenging and may lead to changes in brain architecture that can interfere with learning, social-emotional development, self-regulation and cognitive skills. In today’s world, children should be healthy, alert and motivated to have a better chance of leading productive lives. Not every child, however, has that chance.

Last week, Chapin Hall released Missed Opportunities: Pregnant and Parenting Youth Experiencing Homelessness in America. This third Research-to-Impact brief by Chapin Hall presents findings related to the experiences of young people who are pregnant or parenting and don’t have a stable place to live. They learned that rates of pregnancy and parenthood are high among youth experiencing homelessness, and that many of the young parents are homeless with their children. For pregnant and parenting youth who are homeless, the difficulties of coping with pregnancy and parenthood are compounded by the trauma they have experienced and the ongoing stress of not having a safe or stable place to live with their children.

We know that experiences of homelessness in early childhood are associated with poor early development and educational well-being. These experiences during infancy and toddlerhood are associated with poor academic achievement and engagement in elementary school (Perlman & Fantuzzo, 2010). Additionally, experiences of homelessness are associated with social emotional delays among young children (Haskett, et. al, 2015) and poor classroom-based social skills in elementary school (Brumley, Fantuzzo, Perlman, & Zager, 2015). These findings underscore the importance of ensuring that young children and their young parents who are experiencing homelessness have access to support that is critical to improving the long-term educational outcomes of children nationwide.

Karen McKnight, director of our NC Head Start Collaboration Office, coordinated a statewide Trauma in Early Childhood Education Workgroup, and I feel fortunate to be part of this effort. Promoting early childhood development and buffering stress experienced by young children experiencing homelessness and their families will be part of this work. This group of professionals from Head Start, Smart Start, CCR&R, PCANC, NCAEYC, NCIMHA and others will be attending a two-day on-campus program, facilitated by Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie Jones, faculty directors of the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The training is guided by the question: How can early education leaders support the design and implementation of strong early learning environments, particularly in settings serving children facing adversity?

I hope we can all work together to have an early childhood workforce to meet the social-emotional and mental health needs of all our young children and their families. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. How are you supporting this work?

See additional resources below.