One of the joys of family child care is the length of time providers can spend with the children in their care, and the growth that happens in those years. This also means that providers need to remain adaptable, and ready to change their program alongside the children. Communicating with families at enrollment and checking in regularly about when and how long children are sleeping, how often they’re eating, and their state when they get home (overtired? awake until 11?) can help inform routines as children grow.

Of course, in mixed age groups, it’s very likely that there will be children who have seemingly conflicting needs at the same time. How can one provider offer an active preschooler adequate time outdoors, while also feeding infants as they get hungry, and attend to toileting and diapering needs as the pop up?

There are three things to keep in mind to balance it all (most days!):

  1. Preparation: Communicating with families about young children’s needs, as well as using the provider’s own observations, should inform the construction of the routine. Not only should each child be considered as an individual, but the group as a whole serves as another perspective to consider. Every time the group composition changes, there’s a good chance some part of the routine will as well.
  2. Equipment: Ideally, there should be spaces indoors and out for both active and quiet play; resting; and eating. Of course, space can be at a premium in any child care setting, so adaptability is key. Can a waterproof box with diapers, wipes, diaper table paper, soap and paper towels live near your garden hose?
  3. Flexibility: don’t let the clock stress you out– it’s a reference point, not your boss. If the children are contentedly playing, don’t let the clock tell you or them that it’s time to stop! Conversely, if some are clearly tired and hungry, feel free to move lunch and rest time accordingly. While many states have regulations that require infants to be fed and given naps on a highly individualized schedule, it’s okay to let a tired child rest or a hungry child have a cup of milk or other snack outside of scheduled meal times.

For Reflection:

What times of day are the most challenging to meet everyone’s needs?

What would support you in partnering with families around children’s need for routine?

Image From Analyzing Childrens Art, Rhoda Kellogg, p. 49

When very young children are presented with art materials, whether fingerpaint or crayons, their first instinct is to “scribble.” Often, adults see this scribbling as meaningless until children begin to label their drawings. These early scribbles, though, are as important for their own sake as they are to children’s later development of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, as well as the abstract representation they will need to use to understanding reading and writing.

When children scribble, they get the proprioceptive feedback from the tool in their hands (or, in the case of fingerpaint, the hands themselves) and learn how to track and plan the movements of their arms, elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers. Rather than being inferior to identifiable or named drawings, scribbling is a way for children to experiment with their influence on their surroundings.

Scribbling is also joyful and enjoyable! Children are learning about aesthetics and what looks good to them. They might tell stories or name the scribble to represent an idea or person, or they may be interested for just as long as it takes to make the marks on the paper.

A space to scribble can be simple with just crayons and paper available on a shelf children can access. Outdoors, chalk is a classic, and the large size presents both an interesting challenge and enticing opportunity to cover a much bigger surface than most children can indoors.

For Reflection:

What opportunities do very young children have to scribble in your program? What materials can they use?

How do you respond to children’s scribbles? Do you display them?

Sensory processing is the way we use information from our senses to interact with and learn from our world; the smell of trash should tell you to look somewhere else for food, while the sight of a stop sign should tell you to hit the brakes. But not everyone’s sensory input is organized in a way that allows them to use the information they’re taking in. When a person has sensory processing difficulties, they have trouble responding appropriately to the sensory information they’re receiving. This can lead to a variety of observable behaviors, depending on the impacted senses, such as covering ears at loud (or even slightly loud) noises, or refusing to eat foods that are “squishy” or crunchy.

It’s important to note that variations in sensory preferences are normal– some people like to listen to loud metal music and others prefer soft classical, and neither is wrong or indicative of sensory integration differences. These preferences are what make us individuals. However, for safety, as well as optimal development, children should be able to participate in daily life without struggling to integrate their sensory experiences.

If sensory seeking or avoiding behavior gets in the way of a child being able to form and maintain friendships, follow developmentally typical directions, or engage in their child care environment, it’s worth connecting their family with your state’s early intervention program for an assessment by an occupational therapist.

For Reflection:

Have you cared for children with diagnosed sensory processing difficulties?

What adaptations have you made to support their exploration of the sensory environment?

Do you know how to contact your local early intervention to make a referral, or support families in making a self-referral?


From Megan K. Lerner and Anthony T. Vesco’s presentation on Strategies for Managing Stress and Trauma-Related Distress in Preschoolers, the Stoplight can be completed with individual children or as a group to teach self-regulation skills, as seen in the presentation here (start at 52:00):

Stoplight Form


Family child care providers are more likely than most early childhood educators to work with mixed age groups, which can broaden the differences in abilities to plan for. But all children develop at different rates, with different interests and abilities, so even when an activity is only for three-year-olds, the particular three-year-olds who are participating are going to determine the types of adaptations and levels that are planned for.

When writing a lesson plan, including adaptations for children who need more assistance or more challenging stimulation can seem daunting at first, but soon will become second nature. Consider the following factors when planning appropriate modifications– we’ll test it out on a planned activity after:

  1. Safety first! Are the children using risky tools (hammers/nails, hot glue, etc.) that could be misused if a child’s attention, impulse control, or motor skills are not at a certain level? Consider partnered work, having one “helper,” adapting tools (loop scissors instead of regular scissors, tacky glue instead of hot glue), or working hand-over-hand.
  2. Look at your goal for the activity: have any of the children already accomplished it? Is it too far out of the zone of proximal development for some children to attempt? Are there smaller steps those children can take to meet that goal?
  3. What can children who finish early do? Have a plan for the ones who lose interest early as well as the ones who want to keep working and experimenting.



Audience: Children 2-5 years old

Activity: Tissue paper collage on contact paper

Learning Outcomes (from IN Early Learning Standards):

Adaptations: Children will be offered pencils and loop scissors, as well as traditional safety scissors, to create and cut out designs from tissue paper. Children will be encouraged to tear the paper by hand if not yet able to use scissors consistently. Children may work with the contact paper at easels, on the table, or on trays on the floor to allow optimal body positioning. Children can work until finished, and those who finish first/early may wash up and move on to open centers for free play.

When planning a child-focused curriculum, it’s important to notice how children are using the materials. This observation form is made to be used repeatedly over the course of a week or two to allow providers to notice how children are using materials, and plan what additional materials or provocations can be added to extend childrens’ interests. There are also spaces to note early learning standards that children are addressing through interacting with the centers.

Interest Center Observations

In the RIE philosophy, there is a great emphasis on ensuring that caregiving times are relaxed and enjoyable for children and their caregivers. While this might be a dramatic reframe for some– is it really possible to enjoy changing diapers? — it can make mundane tasks much more pleasant.

Family child care is a unique profession– some days drag out, but many others fly by. Taking any opportunity to slow down and be mindfully present with the children is a way to build relationships with each child and ensure that there is time each day spent in warm individual interactions.

The major criterion that makes an activity “want something” quality time is that the adult has an agenda for the child to participate in. This is typically participating in a care task like diapering/toileting, feeding/eating, or dressing. How can these sometimes stressful occasions become enjoyable for everyone? The answer is simple: play!

When a child is getting changed, songs and nursery rhymes (“This Little Piggy”, “Hickory, Dickory, Dock”) have natural gestures that can be incorporated into dressing the child. Taking some pressure off of meals and offering conversation or even calm games for older toddlers, like “I spy on my plate” or discussing the attributes of the meal.

It’s normal for a child to offer some resistance during care times; babies and toddlers try to roll away from diaper changes, or spit out food, or tantrum to avoid getting dressed. Approaching the child in the spirit of collaboration and fun, while not an immediate “cure” for these behaviors, will change the tone of these interactions over time.

Reflection Questions:

Sometimes in difficult conversation with families, it can be difficult to empathize and maintain what feels like a productive conversation. Using the acronym THINK, here are some tips from Megan K. Lerner, LCSW and Anthony T. Vesco, PhD for maintaining and building a productive relationship.

THINK Handout


One of the most perplexing things that can happen when a child’s inappropriate behavior is being addressed is laughter. We’re prepared for averted eyes or signs of shame, but why is laughter some children’s go-to?

Do they believe their actions are funny? Do they think the adult is being funny? Is it an act of rebellion or disrespect?

Actually, none of the above. Laughter is a stress response. While it’s a difficult perspective shift to make, seeing the laughter and interpreting it as crying is likely much closer to the child’s internal state than most people would assume.

Knowing this, what can we as providers change in response to a child’s laughter and perceived defiance? How can we make our own mental shift to handle this effectively, still teach the child the prosocial skills we are looking to impart, and not cause harm by becoming more intense and escalating the child’s sense of fear?

The first step is deescalating yourself to be ready to coregulate. This might be a mantra, counting backwards, or slow and purposeful breathing to remind yourself that the child is struggling.

Next is coregulation: helping the child to feel safe again. This can be hard if you’re still focused on the initial behavior. Rest assured, this doesn’t mean not addressing the initial incident. It does mean that the child will be emotionally prepared and ready to learn from it. Breathing with the child– one of my favorite methods is five-finger breathing, as shown in this video:

Once you’re both feeling calm, then it’s time to address the initial challenging behavior.


Questions for Reflection:

Have I seen children laugh or otherwise respond in an unexpected way to correction? What have I done before?

What might get in the way of taking the time to calm down myself and the child?

When else might it be useful to implement intentional calming strategies like finger breathing with children?

Like most other states, Indiana has published Early Learning Standards to help early childhood educators understand what children should be learning as they grow. This document can be intimidating at first for providers who want to use it for their curriculum planning. In this three-part series, we will look at:

  1. Finding what learning is already naturally happening in your environment
  2. Creating a lesson plan to address learning content that may not be present
  3. Sharing with families how and what children are learning in your program.

This series is designed to be brief; each video is only about five minutes long and will help providers identify meaningful learning experiences in their environments.

Part 1: Finding What’s There