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The children of Estes Children’s Cottage serve themselves sliced cucumbers family-style.

Written by guest bloggers Michelle and Cathy Tuttle, owners of Estes Children’s Cottage in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Our mealtimes are a part of our curriculum at Estes Children’s Cottage, and we enjoy sharing food experiences together. Our program philosophy is inspired by the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and we draw inspiration from their view on food and eating together. 

According to the Reggio Children book, The Languages of Food: Recipes, Experiences, Thoughts, “special care in offering tastes, in the food and attractive composition of the dish, in the aesthetics of table setting, the pleasure of sharing lunch with friends, and the opportunity to encounter the kitchen as a multisensory laboratory are important strategies for creating a welcoming atmosphere for all and highlighting the individual in the group.” 

One of the centerpieces created by the children of Estes Children’s Cottage.

They view the kitchen in each school as “a place of life and of possible relationships, a vital space inhabited on a daily basis by adults and children, a space for thinking and research and learning.”

During the past year, we have explored expanding the children’s involvement with our mealtimes by adding a new ritual of allowing the daily table-setter to design a unique centerpiece for lunchtime. The children now gather items and request that they are used as a centerpiece.

Based on the children’s interest, we’ve created opportunities for helping that include bringing breakfast from the kitchen, putting away clean dishes in the morning and removing dishes from the table after lunch. The older children developed a growing interest in talking about our menu, the food offered and the kitchen where our food is prepared.

The parents and children of Estes Children’s Cottage watch Robert show how to cut butternut squash.

Since we often reference Robert when talking about how some of the dishes we have are prepared, the children wanted to know more about Robert, the manager and chef at the Chapel Hill kitchen for Child Care Services Association’s Meal Services Program. They had many questions for him, including what he looked like and his favorite foods to prepare and eat. We gathered the children’s questions and mailed a letter to Robert. He sent back his responses, complete with a picture attached. 

We wanted to nurture the children’s interest in the kitchen and grow the relationship. Our oldest group of children was then able to travel by town bus on a field trip to see the kitchen in action. We were accompanied by a couple of the children’s parents as well.

Robert showing the children of Estes Children’s Cottage the equipment in CCSA’s Meal Services’ Chapel Hill kitchen.

They observed the food preparation process, saw some of the tools used in the kitchen and even taste-tested a new recipe the kitchen staff had prepared for the occasion. They now have a visual of the kitchen, the staff and a lot of what goes into making our meals, as well as meeting and forming relationships with the kitchen and staff.

After the bus ride back to the Cottage they were able to share “insider information” with the other children about what they had observed and seen. 

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.