The hits keep on coming!

Salt Meadow Academy hasn’t been doing childcare since last November but the hits to our blog keep on coming! I’m truly amazed everytime I login and we that our hit counter is consistently logging 20-30 individual visitors per day. 

That being said, I’m wondering if there are any special interest topics that our visitors would like me to post about or specific questions you’d like answered? Let me know and I’ll do my best to accommodate! 


5 Ways To Save Your Sanity This School-Year

A recent question posed on Facebook by a local news outlet got me thinking about back-to-school organization. There are lots of things families can do to ease the transition from summer vacation mode to back-to-school. Many of these tips also will translate to an easier flow during the school-year.

1. Start transitioning your child to their school year sleep routine a few weeks before the start of school (and stick to it!)

During summer break, it’s easy to let bedtime slide, especially for older school-aged children. A later bedtime also typically means that kids sleep later in the morning. Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with having a relaxed summer sleep pattern but it can lead to challenges at the beginning of the school-year if  the children are not transitioned back to a consistent schedule.

2. Organize all school-related items before going to bed in the evening. 

Pack backpacks and place them at a landing zone where your family will depart in the morning. It’s mich easier to track down a library book in the evening than racing to find it before the bus arrives in the morning.

Have your children choose their clothes (with your help if they are younger) before bed as part of the bedtime routine. I suggest allowing your child to help choose their clothing because it should help allieviate morning routine battles over getting dressed if they had a hand in what they will be wearing. Lay out the outfit choice with shoes (missing shoes can equal chaos in the morning). At wake up time, the child can dress before eating breakfast with the parent helping where necessary. There isn’t really any reason that a developmentally typical 4 year old can’t put their clothing on by themselves in the morning.

If your child brings lunch to school from home, pack the lunchbox in the evening as well. Getting children involved in packing lunches is a great opportunity to discuss nutrition and healthy choices. Children that help choose nutritious items for their lunchbox are more likely to eat them.

3. Create a homework zone. 

You may be thinking “My child is only in Kindergarten”, but I assure you, the homework zone will come in handy. A homework zone is a quiet place for your child to concentrate on their studies. It should be away from the television and other distractions. If you don’t have a designated desk space for them to work, you can set-up a portable homework zone for use at any table.

All homework zones should ideally have a table top work space and a chair appropriate to your child’s height (their feet should touch the ground or a stool can be placed under them so their feet can rest on it. Dangling feet can lead to distraction and poor writing posture..

Create a caddy (the dollar store sells little plastic buckets with handles) that contains pencils, erasers, crayons, a stapler, paper clips, sticky notes, loose leaf paper, and blank paper. Basically, stuff that your child may need to complete their homework.  If they are older, a ruler or calculator may be needed.

The purpose of the homework zone is so at when it’s “homework time” there is no time-wasting, excuses and frustration from tracking down a pencil or a red crayon.

4. Create a before-school schedule (and stick to it)

No one likes to start their day stressed out because they are cramming to much into the morning hours before work or school.

I suggest that parents wake before the children to tend to their own morning routine without the children underfoot. Take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, feed the pets, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee all before the tribe gets up.

Once you’re ready, you can tend to the children’s routine. Wake the children so they physically have enough time for their bodies to adjust to being awake. I recommend waking them at a minimum of one hour before they need to leave the house.  It may seem like a nice thing to do to allow them to sleep-in as late as possible, but you may be doing more harm than good. Think about how rushed and disconnected you feel if you sleep past your alarm in the morning and have to ram groggily out the door in the morning.

One example of a morning routine for a young elementary age child that takes the bus to school school could look like this:

6:00am-7:00am Parent Time 

7:00am-7:15am Children Wake-Up/Dress in Clothing Laid Out Night Before

7:15am- 7:30am Eat Breakfast

7:30am-7:45am Wash Face/Brush Teeth/Hair

7:45-8:00am Free Time

8:00am – 8:15am Lunchbox in Backpack/Shoes/Gather a Items from Landing Zone

8:15am Out the door to wait for bus. 

It’s much more enjoyable for everyone to have a leisurely morning to start the day.

5. Create an after-school schedule (and stick to it)

I know that’s easier said than done but consistency is key. Kids thrive on routine. It allows them to predict what will happen next and having a routine in place will make transitions much easier. One example of an after-school routine for a young elementary age child that takes the bus home from school and doesn’t have any evening extracurricular activity could look like this:

3:45pm – 4:00 pm Bus Drops off (shoes away, backpack in landing zone for parent to check, bathroom, snack)

4:00pm-4:30pm Homework Time in the Homework Zone

4:30pm -5:30pm FreeTime (earlier if homework is already finished)

5:30pm- 6:00pm Dinner

6:00pm-6:15pm Help pack lunches and pack backpack

6:15pm-6:45 Shower/Brush Teeth/Pajamas/Choose Clothing for Morning

6:45pm-7:45pm Free Time

7:45pm-8:00pm Bathroom/Drink of Water/Bedtime Story

8:00pm Lights Out
Of course, each family will have a different schedule depending on the age of their child, the activity level in the house, etc. The important thing to take away from this is that a consistent schedule (adjusted to suit your family’s needs) will help create a more positive atmosphere for everyone in the house.

What are some ways that your family stays sane during the school-year?

unnamedIf you need help developing routines in your home, creating a developmentally appropriate work space for your child or with home organization for a better flow around the house, contact Jillian at for a consultation.

The Value of Intrinsic Motivation in ECE and Beyond

The Value of Intrinsic Motivation in ECE and Beyond

  1. belonging naturally; essential.
    “access to the arts is intrinsic to a high quality of life”
    synonyms: inherent, innate, inborn, congenital, connate, natural; deep-rooted, deep-seated, indelible, ineradicable, ingrained; basic, fundamental, essential; built-in

Way back during my undergraduate studies in psychology, I learned the difference between “intrinsic motivation” and “extrinsic motivation”. Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in behavior because it is personally rewarding, we simply just want to do it; while extrinsic motivation occurs when the individual is motivated to engage in an activity to earn an award or avoid punishment.

Think about all of the activities we, as adults, do that are extrinsically motivated. We work hard at our jobs to earn money or a promotion (reward) and to avoid getting fired (punishment). We pay our bills on time to avoid debt-collectors (punishment). We apply for a scholarship (reward). The list is endless. Now, what feelings or emotions come to mind while reflecting on your list of extrinsic activities…perhaps you feel guilt, shame, anger, fear, exhaustion, boredom, or annoyance.

Now, think about the activities as adults that we do that are purely intrinsically motivated; we do them because we honestly want to, no reward or threat of punishment necessary. We take a yoga class. We volunteer at a homeless shelter. We foster parent. We plant a flower garden. We do the Sunday crossword puzzle. We read a new novel. What feelings or emotions come to mind while reflecting on those intrinsic activities…happiness, relaxation, helpfulness, meditation, empathy, calm, serenity.

How about a child in an early childhood classroom? Would the child not feel the same emotions that we as adults feel for each type of motivation?

Child 1:

Child 1 attends a program where the teacher chooses a theme and the entire class completes activities around that theme. At the end of the unit, the class is awarded with a party to celebrate their success. If the child does not complete the required worksheets and craft projects they can not attend the party. Child 1’s teacher chose the theme “On The Farm” for the current unit of study. Child 1 dislikes farms; he feels they are dirty and smelly and he is afraid of animals. However, Child 1 knows that in order to attend the party, he must complete the activities that his teacher requires. He rushes through the activities in order to earn the party.

How would you feel as Child 1?

Child 2:

Child 2 attends a program that is child-led. Child 2 loves to create structures. She is fascinated by buildings. In her classroom, she has the freedom to mold clay into buildings, build block structures, and make castles in the sandbox. She even draws pictures of buildings. Her teacher wants to expand on this intrinsic motivation of creation and sets up the block area with a bunch of photographs of famous buildings. The child loves the pictures of the buildings and attempts to remake them using the materials she has at hand in the classroom. Each attempt is documented by the teacher and the student. The teacher helps the student journal about what worked and didn’t work about the structures that were created. 

How would you feel as Child 2?

Which child is learning more? The child going through the motions to earn a party or the child spending hours on her chosen activity?

Which child is happier and more content? The child going through the motions to earn a party or the child spending hours on her chosen activity?

For our young children, having an intrinsic motivation supported and expanded can help open doors to learning and understanding that parents and educators wouldn’t even dream of. Wouldn’t you love to go to school every day and work on topics that interest you? We as adults get to choose our professions, why can’t children?

Some may argue that children need to sit down and learn to write the alphabet at their desk and use teddy bear counters to learn 1-to-1 correspondence because that’s what’s expected in a public Kindergarten.

I ask you why?

It’s always been done that way.

So what?

Why can’t that same child who loves to build structures form her letters from blocks on the floor or write them with a stick in the sandbox? Why can’t she count out the number of blocks that she needs to make two walls of her building an equal height?

The value of intrinsic motivation in early childhood education can not be overlooked. In an age when many parents are expecting Kindergarten readiness at an earlier and earlier age, early childhood education is becoming more rigid and more academically focused with flashcards and worksheets and drills. Children don’t need all of those things. They need someone to spend the time getting to know them and what motivates them. Be the child’s guide and co-learner and the learning will follow naturally.

Do you incorporate child-led learning in your classroom or at home? What topics or activities is your child intrinsically motivated about? Share your comments below.


If you would like help incorporating a child-led curriculum into your programming or expanding a child’s current interests please contact Jillian at for ways that we can best assist you.

Twisted Stands Returns for 2015-2016 School Year!


Twisted Strands is back for the new school year! 

Last year’s preschoolers are this years big kids and they’d love to pick up where we last left off with the Twisted Strands project! They are exceptionally excited to receive new ribbons and letters and to track the new locations on their map! They reflect on last years project often looking through the binder of letters and pictures that we received! 

Here is an excerpt from last years project invitation:


Our students came up with a wonderful idea today and I’d like to share it with you all and ask for some help in making it happen!
Salt Meadow Academy is a small Reggio inspired preschool and child care located in Clinton, CT USA. We have started a collaborative project with our students called “Twisted Strands”. You can read more about it on our blog ( .
Our students thought it would be a lovely idea to have other Reggio schools/programs and families send us some ribbons to add to our string tree, because, as our students noted today, we are ALL connected. We would label each string with your program/family name and location and add a pin to a world map!
If your school/program or anyone else for that matter would like to send us a ribbon to add to our tree, please email me at for more information! Feel free to share this with anyone that may be interested! Our kids are very excited and are hoping to get some strings and notes from programs/families soon from around the world!

Mail contributions to show our children “we are all connected” to (please note NEW ADDRESS!!)

Twisted Strands

Salt Meadow Academy

30 Pepperbush Drive

Clinton, CT 06413 USA 

All contributors will receive our certificate of participation as well as a personal response from our children. We document every contribution on our blog as well. 

View our blog posts from last school year tagged “Twisted Strands” for more information! 

Twisted Strands : Nearly 1 Year Later

Last year, something amazing happened to Salt Meadow Academy. Our project, which our children dubbed Twisted Strands became a global phenomena! Since the project began, we collaborated with schools around the world on better ways to show our children “We are all connected” using our Twisted Strands project as guidance. Keep an eye out for our Twisted Strands brand to expand later this year with some exciting new offerings including the Twisted Strands ToolKit!

It has come to my attention that there are other programs that want to complete their own Twisted Strands  projects with their classes by requesting ribbons and strings from around the world! Wonderful! I am so humbled that we were able to spark ideas with our project.

Email for information on how to get your project started!

Tales of a Child Care Provider: Paper Record Keeping

Since I posted the previous “Tales of a Child Care Provider” entry, I’ve gotten numerous emails asking for tips and suggestions for all sorts of organization issues. The first one I’ve decided to weigh in on is paper record keeping. 

Licensed providers (both home based and centers) need to keep paper records required by the state you are licensed in. There is no way around it and if you do not have your records straight, it could lead to big trouble down the line. 

I’m licensed in Connecticut, so our requirements of what we need to have paperwork wise may be slightly different than your state or country but the basic principles of how to organize them should be the same. I refer to inspections in my post and when I do so, I’m referring to an inspection of a licensed family day care home in Connecticut. 

The first thing I made sure to do in order to keep my paperwork neat was a file box specifically to daycare records. Nothing else is in that box. Not a spare piece of paper with your old grocery list on it, no tax records, nothing. Why nothing additional? Well, if you keep your records in a large file cabinet in your office and you have other miscellaneous items mixed in, licensing has the authority to view anything in your cabinet, including personal documents that have nothing to do with your license. My recommendation is to always keep your records seperate. I have a portable filebox that I can carry to a table for the yearly inspections that the CT Office of Early Childhood is now doing. What is nice about having a portable box system is that if it’s organized how I suggest, you can leave your auditor to look through the box and you are free to continue your regular scheduled programming with your children. 

So you’ve got a seperate file box, great! You’ll also need hanging file folders, file folders to fit inside them, and of course, labels and a marker. Let’s get those crazy papers organized. 

First, I’m going to talk about “Family Folders”. I create a “Family Folder” anytime a new family enrolls in my care. Each family folder is a hanging file folder has the families last name written on one of those plastic labels. Create one for every current family that uses your care. 

Inside the hanging “Family Folder” is a regular folder for each child in that family. On the folders tab, I write the child’s last then first names (Example: Smith, Susan) and on the front of the folder I write their birth date and starting date of care. I also write when their medical form was signed (because in CT we need a new medical form yearly for children that are not yet school age) . 

Connecticut seems to require that providers hold onto a hefty amount of paperwork from each enrolled child. I’m not sure how we compare to other states but in each child’s folder I have the following:

  • Ct Medical Form
  • Ct Enrollment Form
  • Salt Meadow Academy Contract
  • CT Incident Log
  • CT Emergency Medical Form
  • CT Permission for Application of Non-Prescription Topical Medications

If Salt Meadow Academy distributed prescription medication, we would have a plethora of other other forms. 

Okay, so each current family has a “Family Folder” which you should place right in the front of your file box in alphabetical order by family last name.  Excellent, but you’re not done (especially in CT where we need to keep records of past clients as well).   Do the same thing for your past families except on the hanging folder label mark PAST in bright red. Also mark PAST on each child’s folder. I keep those files in the far back of my file box. When a current family discontinues care, simply relabel their hanging folder with PAST and move it on back. 

Phew, tired yet? If so take a break and come back to this blog post later.

The next hanging folder that is in my file box is “Licensing Requirements”. Sounds pretty vague doesn’t it? Well, in this hanging folder is a few regular folders each holding one piece of paper (or perhaps a couple). I have regular folders tabbed with the following items your inspector (in CT at least) will ask to see:

  • First Aid Certificate (on the front of this folder I mark the expiration date for easy access and I set a calendar remind two months before expiration so that there is enough time to register for a class)
  • Adult Medical Statement (I also mark when this was signed because we need to renew it yearly, and schedule a calendar reminder two months in advance to remind to renew)
  • Pet Rabies Certificates (Write on the front of the folder the expiration date of each pets Rabies vaccine. Only keep the certificates in this folder to eliminate clutter.)
  • Past Inspection Forms (all of them, in chronological order with the most recent in the front)

Aren’t you feeling so much more organized? Make sure to check your states requirements for paperwork that your inspector will want to view. 

The next hanging folder is “Enrollment Forms”. At Salt Meadow Academy when a family enrolls with us they are required to fill out a good amount of state mandated paperwork as well as some forms that we require. I keep copies of blank forms at all times in the file box. You’ll never know when a parent wants to enroll quickly, has a change in emergency medical information that they need to make or their child has a doctor appoiment that afternoon and the parent would like to bring a copy of the required form. Having copies on hand makes it simple to keep everyone organized. Have you ever had a family call in the middle of the day looking for childcare to start ASAP? While it’s exciting that you are gaining a new client, it’s also panic-at-the-disco if you realize they will be stopping for forms in a half hour and you’ve got a classroom of kids and no spare time to make copies. I have folders labeled:

  • Salt Meadow Academy Contract
  • Salt Meadow Academy Handbook
  • CT Enrollment Form
  • CT Medical Form
  • CT Incident Log
  • CT Emergency Medical Form
  • CT Permission for Application of Non-Prescription Topical Medications

No panic-at-the-disco for this provider. I can open up the file box and pull a form from each folder to create an instant enrollment package for a new family. 

Onward! The folder in my file box is labeled “Town Of Clinton”. Ahhh, many providers don’t realize that they most likely have to notify their town and get zoning permission to operate a licensed daycare home. For myself, it was a painless process, perhaps because I am bit of a stickler for the details. In my “Town of Clinton” folder I have the following subfolders:

  • Zoning Permit Application & Approval
  • Certificate of Trade Name 

Lastly, I have a file labeled “Certificates”. Other than the items listed in the  Licensing Requirements section above, I am not required to hold any other special endorsements or certifications. However, because I’m me, of course I do. I have folders for each of the many additional certificates that hang next to our license:

  • Eco Healthy Child Care
  • CT Charts-A-Course
  • CT Head Teacher Designation 
  • Natural Teachers Network
  • CPR Certification (not required for home providers in CT, insanity right?!)

In this section, I also keep a three-ring binder with any continuing education courses or certificates that I’ve earned. I keep each certificate in a plastic page protector. The spine of the binder is labeled “Education”.

So that’s that for paper record keeping in the daycare file box. Of course, it’s not the only papers I need to organize, but they are the only ones that  I don’t mind my licensing agency thumbing through. I have folders of tax information (yup, I do ALL of my taxes myself and I actually enjoy it!) ,receipts, parent payment schedules etc in a whole different location for my use only. I also keep a pretty fabulous planner with childrens schedules clearly written (in pencil, because we all know schedules can change).

Do you have any record keeping tricks or tips that you’d like to share? What’s  the next “Tales of a Child Care Provider” topic you’d like to know more about? Leave a comment below!

Loose Parts: Corks, Tape & Paint

I’m a huge fan of loose parts. We have baskets of smooth river rocks, corks, spools, glass jewels, plexiglass circles, etc etc all over our classroom. Lately, there has been a huge interest in painting. I get requests to paint It’s really taken an interesting turn lately with the materials the children want to paint with. In the beginning of the school year we used natural brushes and since then the children’s ideas keep circling back. This provocation was a simple one; a basket of corks, a roll of masking tape, a paintbrush and a palette of paints. 

“The corks look like a flower. I painted it different colors using the paint brush. Then I stamped them.”

“I painted my flower half purple and half yellow.”

“The colors came out really good. The petals look wavy. There might have been to much paint on the corks . Look there is a bubble.”

“The colors mixed on this flower. i can see blue, purple, red, and green. It looks like a planet. I saw one in a magazine. iIt was all swirly.”

“This is a red rose. I like how the petals didn’t fill in all the way. So now it looks like a red and white rose. I think I just invented a new flower.”

“They all came out so different. That one has too much paint and that one did not have enough paint. i stamped it three times and the paint went away . I like the m all, I dont have a favorite. I like that the paint got all mixed together.”

This provocation turned out to be a lot of fun. I was surprised that the student did not try stamping with just a single cork or with a different pattern. When applying the paint to her stamps she used the brush rather than dipping  them into the paint. When discussing her actions the student didn’t want to mix the colors  on the palette by dipping the corks into the paint. She explained, once she “dipped red into white I wouldn’t have white anymore, it would always be pink”. 

All in all, a fun time had and next time we will paint with a new material. 

What materials have your students painted with? Please share any ideas or suggestions that I can share with my paint obsessed students!

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Painted Branches

We tend to use a ton of natural materials. The kids love coming into the classroom and finding bowls of pinecones, piles of sticks, or a basket of rocks and shells. We had an early dismissal day last week so I set out a provocation with sticks that I had sanded (they were previously in our building area and the children weren’t building with them anymore) and cups of paint. Coming into the classroom after school, they are always excited to see paint. 

The beginnings of Painted Branches…which quickly took an interesting turn…the children were painting WANDS!

The discussion at the table was that they were painting magic wands! What a FABULOUS and totally unexpected turn of events.  

Our two year old was excited to get into the paint action.

Workers at a wand factory creating magic wands with special powers.

The workers let the wands dry between paint coats .

Details on a child’s wand.

Details on a child’s wand.

In hindsight, I probably should have guessed that these wands branches would  become wands. Some of the children have become very interested in Harry Potter recently. 

A proper wizard must have a spellbook.

One of the lovely outcomes of an activity such as this is that even children who dislike writing willingly joined in the fun because it was their idea! Children helped each other with spelling and punctuation. New words were invented and pictures drawn to match their magic spells. The children really cranked the creativity up a notch!

Proper wizards need hats, right? Our two year old casting a spell as our 9 year old plays along. Once again, this is the absolutel beauty of a mixed age group.

The wonderful effects of a child led curriculum unfolded before my eyes today. The children were workers in a factory, practiced writing unprompted, and played cooperatively. The littles learned from the bigs and the bigs even learned a bit of patience by actively incorporating the littles into their fantasy world. 

What surprising turns have your provocations taken? Share them below in the comments!

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