Outside of childbirth, childcare is arguably the most expensive part of raising a child. It’s now standard to pay several thousand dollars a year for childcare – even if you have someone coming to your home. However, when you find a good daycare or preschool and a good teacher, it’s worth it. These wonderful women and men will go far beyond the extra mile, not only ensuring that your child grows and develops well but that you’re better prepared to help them do so. So, partially in contrast to yesterday’s somewhat negative 12 Things Daycare Teachers Should Never Do and partially because I think we need to celebrate daycare teachers more, here are 17 Awesome Things Daycare Teachers Do.
* Note: I’ve read some parenting blogs where parents complain about not knowing how to discipline their children or work with them. Some of the items on this list will actually be very helpful for maintaining discipline, bonding with your child, and keeping them entertained and focused. Give them a shot: they usually work.
- Spend all day with a 10 – 25 preschoolers. I know this is self-evident, but it bears repeating: a daycare teacher will spend about eight hours a day with 10 – 25 kids below the age of five. Even being in the room with that many preschoolers is exhausting. Now imagine having to be upbeat and cheerful, needing to teach them everything from songs to dances to dexterity skills to how to write their names, being able to successfully prevent and stop fights, and handling dozens of mini-crises. And then agreeing to come back the next day and do it all again. That takes dedication.
- Continue to work while injured or sick. I have seen teachers work with torn ligaments and broken bones and while recovering from surgery, and they are almost always their sunny, energetic selves. Yes, they might have to sit more often and use a teaching assistant, but they’re still quick with praise and hugs and more than willing to engage in finger play and sensory activity.
- Allow a child to get sick on them. Every parent inevitably gets puked on, pooped on, peed on, or some combination of the three, but most parents agree that it comes with the territory. It’s their child; what can you do? However, daycare teachers aren’t related to their charges. And yet they still have to deal with bodily fluids and sickness. I have actually seen a teacher catch a kid’s vomit. It was really gross but really impressive. And remember: there are 10 – 25 kids per classroom. This happens on a pretty regular basis.
- Give out love and affection unconditionally. I’m a pretty private person and often have trouble showing affection, even when I genuinely feel it, so when kids need a hug, I’m always awkward. Great daycare teachers aren’t. They let kids climb into their lap and soothe them when they’re feeling sick and waiting for their parents. They give them big hugs when someone’s been mean to them. They let them climb up their legs and swing on their arms. And they do it unconditionally – just because the kid needs it. That shows a lot of heart.
- Use call and answer to reinforce discipline. Call and answer is where you start saying something and expect the child to answer. One of my favorite teachers has two discipline-based call and answers that work wonders. The first is when I’m reading a book. In a singsong voice, she’ll say, “Remember: when she’s talking –” “You’re not!” the kids will chorus. The other one is when I’m giving out stickers or prizes, and she’ll say, “Remember: you get what you get –” “And you don’t throw a fit!” the kids finish. And you know what? It’s the best-disciplined class I go to. The teacher repeats these phrases every time I’m there and starts saying them as soon as the kids enter her class. And it works!
- “Catch a bubble.” God bless “Catch a bubble.” It’s one of the most effective ways of making kids settle down and be quiet. Basically, when kids are being antsy, you tell them to “Catch a bubble.” They’ll open their mouth wide, take a deep breath, and close their mouths with their cheeks all puffed out – like they’ve caught a bubble in their mouth. It always works. Just make sure they’re not actually holding their breath – that creates problems.
- “Kiss your brain.” This is a really cute way to develop self-esteem in kids. Basically, whenever a kid does something well (especially if it’s something cognitive like knowing the day of the week or all the colors), the teacher will say, “Kiss your brain!” and kiss their hand and pat their head. Kids love it. They smile and wiggle and are just so proud of themselves.
- The Spiderman cheer. This is another way to center kids and applaud them for a good job well done. Do the Spiderman hand sign with both hands but cock your arms, bringing them close to your face. Then go “Chu-chu-chuuuuu…” while lowering your arms and spraying your webslinger. It’s quiet but fun and kids are eager to do it.
- The firework cheer. Another great but quiet way to center kids, this might actually be more effective than “Catch a bubble.” For this one, you start with your hands parallel to each other but about hip length apart. Then you bring them together and clap, pushing them upwards before pulling them apart and fluttering your fingers down to a neutral position while going, “Shhhhh…” Basically, you’re imitating a firework going off and falling down while reminding kids to be quiet and center themselves. Kids love it.
- Do dances to transition between centers. While I have no problem with a teacher using TV every once in a while, dances are generally just as effective in helping kids transition from activity to activity. I love it when a teacher turns on a record player or CD player, and she and all the kids march around the carpet singing, clapping in rhythm, and dancing. The second the kids here the music, they stop hitting, fighting, or screaming and make a beeline to the carpet, eager to do their dance.
- Turn thematic lessons into interactive play sessions. Last year, I worked with this really creative and dedicated teacher. She did amazing work and was instantly beloved by her students. One of her most successful lessons was about Olympic sports. The kids learned about the bobsled, skiing, and other sports – and then they went out and did them. The teacher got cardboard boxes and had the kids pull each out around for the dogsled or push them on it for bobsled. She would always reinforce the lessons by making sure they knew what the sport was, what equipment they used, and what season it happened in. The kids learned a lot and can still tell you about the Olympics. Daycare teachers do these things all the time, and I can confirm for you that making a cardboard-based Olympic event is not in the curriculum. It’s just something she wanted to do.
- Create fully immersive lesson plans. Another one of the teachers I work with does this, and it’s great. She’ll take the theme and extend it as far as she can, incorporating science, art, play, role-play, music, and film. For example, when she does the Dr. Seuss lesson, they’ll listen to the soundtrack for The Lorax, watch The Lorax, make their own Loraxes, dress up like the Lorax and do a play, learn about environmentalism (I’m not even kidding – these 4-year-olds know what the environment is, the life cycle of plants, what hurts plants, and how to recycle), and can quote passages from the books. I walked in to do a Lorax lesson, and she asked, “Everyone, what’s your favorite song?” and they started singing, “How ba-a-a-ad can I be?” in their tiny, high-pitched preschooler voices. It was adorable and terrifying. And this is something she does with every lesson, ensuring that they can identify at least five different kinds of sharks, know the stages a volcano goes through, and can name several US states. Full immersion works.
- Build lesson kits and play areas. I’m not talking about, “Here’s an old doll I had, go play with it.” I’m talking about life-size models of igloos made out of plastic milk gallons. I’m talking about a “listening cave” with a vintage functioning record player. I’m talking about a “tropical island” with a net swing, mini pool, and blow-up toys. Daycare teachers are some of the most resourceful and creative individuals out there, and the really good ones never shy from going the extra mile to create something fun for their kids.
- Sew presents for the kids. This encompasses both fixing kids’ clothes and bags to making them blankets or socks to putting together a Mother’s Day present. Some teachers will take naptime to sew together a kid’s pants. Others will partner with other teachers to sew little pillows or smocks that the kids can later decorate and bring home. And remember: they don’t have to.
- Tailor their lesson plans for the specific ethnic and language make-up of their classroom. That means making a “Hispanic Heritage” week early in the year. That means recruiting parents to talk about their Ukrainian, Italian, or Ghanaian heritage and bring crafts, foods, and clothes. That means taking language classes so they can better communicate with their students. That means reading books with the kids’ primary language in it. Doing so is vitally important for these kids, even those that aren’t anything other than American native English speakers. Kids love learning about different cultures and are fascinated by different languages.
- Teach kids not to bully and not to restrict themselves and others to specific gender roles. Kids aren’t really any meaner than the average human being – they just don’t have filters that let them know when they’re being hurtful. So it’s easy for them to bully someone else, to talk over them, to take their things, and to regurgitate what they’ve heard others say. Any teacher that will step in and let them know why that behavior is unacceptable is worth their weight in gold. Treating others with dignity and respect and not faulting them for being their authentic self are skills many adults don’t yet know.
- Transform quiet, unfocused children into energetic, talkative, intelligent ones. I am always in awe when I suddenly look around and realize that the kid talking my ear off or playing with friends is the same one that nine months ago was quiet, distracted, wouldn’t play with others, or didn’t know any English. And it’s all because of the teachers who took them aside to make sure they knew their letters and shapes or who worked one-on-one with them to help them understand instructions or who helped introduce them to the other kids and have them play with them. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the child who was at the bottom of the class cognitively, socially, and behaviorally become just another energetic, talkative kid. And it’s all thanks to their teacher.