referralWhen it comes to parenting or working with toddlers, it’s hard to know what normal behavior is. Toddler brains and bodies are developing at such a fast pace it can be hard to keep up! Your toddler might be able to say full sentences and communicate his or her needs, but reasoning and rationalizing isn’t a part of their skill set quite yet. It can be challenging to predict your toddler’s wants, needs and behavior in this stage of development. One thing is certain, however: Toddlerhood brings a lot of exciting new skills and challenges.

During this phase of development, it’s important to keep in mind that the determination a toddler has to learn and take in new information can be a powerful influence on behavior as well. You might hear “I do it myself!” as your developing toddler wants to feel autonomy and empowerment as they work on building new skills. Parents and caregivers might want to plan for longer and slower transitions as the developing toddler tries out his or her independence while moving from one activity, or place, to another.

High levels of activity and short attention spans are typical behavior for the ever-growing and changing toddler. Parents and caregivers are often surprised to learn that the typical toddler has a much shorter attention span than one might assume.

Average attention span for Toddlers, according to age range:

  • 8-15 months: about 1 minute
  • 16-19 months: 2-3 minutes
  • 20-24 months: 3-6 minutes
  • 24-36 months: 5-8 minutes
  • 3-4 years: 8-10 minutes

The expectation for a toddler to sit and pay attention for long periods of time should be set aside while space to move and explore should be made.

Gross motor skills are coming into alignment as the younger toddler learns to walk, jump and run and the older toddler gains coordination in these skills. Plenty of safe opportunities to move and climb should be provided, including lots of outside time for toddlers of all ages.

Toddlers are also gaining the necessary social skills to build life-long relationships with family and friends. Sometimes toddlers express interest in interacting with other children in funny (and not so funny) ways. Have you ever observed a toddler walk up to a peer and bop them on the head? What adults might view as aggressive or inappropriate behavior could be interpreted as the toddler simply wanting the other child’s attention and friendship. When language is still developing, it might be challenging for toddlers to express interest in playing with other children without inserting themselves physically into another child’s world. Parents and caregivers can take these opportunities to model appropriate social interactions and open up conversations with their toddler about suitable ways to initiate friendships.

Make-believe and dramatic play blossoms at this age, too. Often children play out interests, curiosities and even fears through make-believe play. Toddlers love to imitate their caregivers and pretend to be adults. Parents and caregivers can encourage dramatic play by providing dress-up clothes and practical life materials so that toddlers can pretend to their heart’s content. Dramatic play can provide opportunities for parents to learn more about their toddlers and for toddlers to learn more about their place in the world.

The older toddler can really start to grasp story lines and related pictures, making reading and story-telling a super fun and exciting activity. Frequent visits to the library and daily reading encourage healthy development and a life-time love of reading. Toddlers often fall in love with books and ask for the same stories over and over again, sometimes even memorizing storylines so that they can “read” the stories themselves. Encourage your toddler’s interest in books by providing a wide variety of books and reading frequently. Reading aloud to your child is one of the best and most important gifts you can provide; reading offers important support in the development of social, cognitive, language and literacy skills.

The old adage, “The days are long but the years are short” can really ring true during the toddler years. Some days might feel like a futile fight just to get your toddler dressed and fed, while other days you might wonder how you were gifted with the most amazing child to ever walk this earth. Rest assured your toddler is just as confused and emotional as you might feel while parenting them. Practice patience and kindness not only with your toddler, but with yourself, as you parent. There is no one right way to parent a toddler, or a child of any age, so remember to go easy on yourself and have fun with your ever-changing and growing toddler!

STEM Video CYoung children cannot be taught STEM skills. For a five-year-old, the practical application of science, technology, engineering, and math is something they can only absorb through experience.

“You live STEM, when you engage with tools and materials,” explains Hal Melnick from Bank Street College of Education. “And, what better place to do that than the classroom with a knowledgeable teacher who sets up the environment so that kids can engage with scientific principles and ideas.”

There is no better material to engage a child in STEM learning than Caroline Pratt’s unit blocks. The unit is “one of the big ideas in mathematics. Math is the study of relationships and the science of pattern. There's a whole lot of abstract stuff we can talk about later on in life, but it builds from the experience that kids have had with well-organized, well-structured tools like the blocks.”

In this 3-minute video, Melnick and other educators explain why every school that is serious about STEM education needs to have a strong block play component in their curriculum. Watch now.

Rhonda. "Solid Foundation for STEM." Solid Foundation for STEM. Community Playthings, 16 June 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Winter can be long and cold in Wisconsin. One of the best ways to get through the winter months as a child care provider is to help the children get involved in some wintertime fun –inside and out. The following are activities to help you keep cabin fever away during the cold month of February.

Outdoor Activity Ideas

All outdoor activities can be found at:

Make Ice Art

Freeze water colored with food coloring into blocks and other shapes, using ice cube trays, muffin tins, Jell-O molds and old yogurt containers. (This step is more easily done in a freezer, but you can also try it outdoors.) Then bring your colorful ice blocks outside, along with any natural ice and snow you can collect, to create your own ice sculptures. In sub-freezing temperatures, you can stick the pieces together by dribbling water on them—it should quickly freeze them in place.

For the Birds

Hollow out an orange and fill with seeds to feed your feathered friends. Add sticks and string to hang it from a tree.

Bubble Ice Maker

When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, blow bubbles and watch them freeze on the wand.

Ice and Easy

Freeze colored water into ice cubes, then hide them around the yard for a wintertime scavenger hunt.

Create a Maze

Put on your hiking boots and stamp out a path for the children to follow.

Make Faces

Use handfuls of packed snow to create funny characters on a tree trunk.

Indoor Activity Ideas

Make Snow Jars

Materials Needed

  • small glass jar
  • a plastic figurine
  • glycerin or baby oil
  • glitter
  • water
  • glue (we used a hot glue gun, but superglue should work too) Instructions
  1. Decide what you would like to put in your snow globe.
  2. Glue, place and stick your plastic figurine/s to the inside of the jar lid.
  3. Fill your jar with water and glycerin or baby oil and add glitter—1-2 teaspoons
  4. Screw the lid on the jar and glue it shut for safety.
  5. Shake your jar or tip it upside down to make it snow!

Ice Art Sculptures

Materials Needed

  • liquid watercolors
  • salt
  • pipettes
  • ice Instructions 
  1. Fill a large bowl with water and left it overnight in the freezer.
  2. Pull the container out of the freezer awhile before the activity to ensure that the ice comes out easily.
  3. Put the ice out on a giant cookie sheet in order to catch the melting water.
  4. Have the children spread the salt over the ice. The children will love hearing the ice crack as the salt is absorbed.
  5. Have the children use pipettes to drip watercolors directly onto the ice. The excess water from the melting ice will make the colors swirl and blend beautifully.

Abstract Snowman Art

Materials Needed

  • Cotton balls
  • Googly eyes
  • Buttons
  • Blue construction paper
  • Brown construction paper (use to cut out hats) - optional Instructions
  1. Give each child a piece of blue construction paper and a brown construction paper hat.Have the children pick out their cotton balls (great fine motor practice!).
  2. Let the children choose their own googly eyes and buttons to decorate with.
  3. Give the children some glue and let the artistry begin!

Slippery Sledding Sensory Bin

Materials Needed

  • Large cookie sheet
  • Foil
  • Shaving cream
  • Round lids of different sizes and materials to use for sleds
  • Plastic play people
  • Two bowls (one large and one small)


  1. Begin by taking a big cookie sheet and covering it with tin foil.
  2. Take two bowls, one big and one small, and place them upside down on the cookie sheet.
  3. Cover everything with shaving cream.
  4. Give the children the “sleds” and plastic people and let them have some indoor winter fun!
  5. After a while, you could suggest that the little people have a race. The children may discover that they will slide down the hill faster if there was already a track to follow. They also might find that the sleds slide down the steep hill much faster than the gently sloping one. They also could discover that they could make the little people do face plants into the ‘snow’ from the top of the hill. You know, all your typical, important scientific discoveries!

White Play Dough

Make this bright white snow play dough recipe for hours of winter themed sensory play with children.


  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 1 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 cup boiling (or nearly boiling) water
  • A few drops liquid glycerin (not essential, but makes it even smoother!)
  • Silver glitter


  1. Heat the ingredients gently in a pan, stirring until it comes together to form a non-sticky ball. Leave it for a little while to cool down, in which time it will come together more
  2. Knead it until smooth and soft
  3. Add in glitter
  4. If it’s too sticky, add some more cornstarch

Play Ideas

  • Roll the white sparkly dough into balls to make snow balls!
  • Build snow men and snow castles and decorate them with buttons, twigs and beads
  • Roll out the dough with a rolling pin and cut out snowflakes and stars using cutters
  • Use it to form part of a small world play snow landscape and play with penguins, seals, polar bears etc.

We all might agree that times have changed and children have a lot more screen time each day than ever before through the use of television, computer, video games, smartphones and iPads, just to name a few.


Studies have shown that children ages 8 – 18 years now spend an average of over 7.5 hours a day with some type of media. According to a 2009 study by The Nielsen Company, children ages 2-5 years are consuming an average of more than 32 hours weekly of TV time. This study also found that, in general, TV viewing among American children ages 2 – 11 years is at an eight-year high.

There are many reasons for concern with too much screen time. Excess screen time can cause a range of cognitive and physical issues for children such as shorter attention span, increased risk of obesity and sleep problems.

Time children spend in front of the television or video games can take away from time that is spent engaging in activities and interacting with people, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is what most efficiently helps toddlers grow and develop. Children are not focused on relating to others or creative play when they are focused on screens.

Although, one point to recognize is that not all screen time is bad. Using the computer or iPad to do research for a school project or using the Nook tablet/Kindle to read a book is a positive use of screens. The type of screen time that is important to monitor and cut down on is that which replaces physical activity and socializing with family and friends. For young children, screen time that involves a parent watching and interacting with the child about the video or educational app can be beneficial. Parents can enhance the learning from the app and provide verbal interaction with their child. For example, if the app is teaching about colors, the parent could point out the colors of the things around them at the time.

Strategies for cutting down on screen time:

  • Make gradual changes by cutting back an hour each week.
  • Put TV’s and computers in a central location and out of children’s rooms, it will be easier to monitor screen time.
  • Encourage doing other activities such as puzzles, board games, playing outside or reading a good book.
  • Create a schedule for screen time, sit down with your family and make a daily or weekly schedule for screen time that works with everyone’s schedule.
  • No screens during homework time, unless it is required or necessary.
  • No screens during meal times, this is a great time to talk with each other rather than being disengaged with screen distractions.
  • Be consistent, stay calm and remind your children why these limits are important.
  • Keep track of your own screen time so you can be a positive example to your children.

Digital devices are a big part of our lives whether we want them to be or not. This is true for both children and adults. Digital technology is here to stay and offers great benefits in many areas of our lives. What’s important is to stay in touch with the many other aspects of our lives and our children’s lives. As parents and caregivers, we have the important job of making sure to continue to include face to face interaction, hands on creative experiences and the world around us to help our children grow. It is more important than ever to ensure children get the physical activity and time outside in nature that they truly need. Making sure that there is a balance between screen time and the many other needs of children (and adults) can make a big difference in living in this ever increasing world of technology.

There recently has been talk about the “cliff effect,” the point at which low income families lose welfare to work subsidies before they can pay for the same needed service (child care, health care etc.) with the money they are earning.

The cliff effect plays out quite differently depending on what the cost of living is where the family lives. Here are some examples from 4-C’s eight county service area (Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Jefferson, Rock, Sauk and Walworth counties). The average group center rates for a full week of care are from 2015 for the age range as the norm for child care costs. The poverty levels are from 2016.These are based on a low income family of one adult and one child.Cliff Effect

As can be seen there is one standard co-pay that is used statewide. If the family qualified for a Wisconsin Shares subsidy before they were at 185% of poverty they would be paying $328 for child care at 200% of poverty. Note that there is no variation in the copay amount in spite of the fact that infant care is far more expensive than care at other ages. The two no subsidy columns reflect the full cost of care since a family earning more than $14.25/hour cannot enter the subsidy system.

At 201% of poverty they lose their child care subsidy. The columns at 205% is the additional amount of money they need to pay for child care with a $.29/hour raise (which comes to about $50 a month).

Two things are obvious. First in none of the counties does the $50 increase equal the increased cost of care. Secondly the additional amount needed varies greatly from county to county. Note all of these counties are in the upper half of cost of living within the state (Dane currently is #1) so the variance is actually a lot larger statewide.

This is one subsidy of several, and they all operate on different formulas. A family facing a big increase in child care costs will often be facing increases also in health care. Also the cliff effect may not be the only formula problem. The child care subsidy co-pay for instance starts at 70% of poverty. At that point in Dane County families with one child cannot pay for the copay and the average rent. The problem with creating a successful welfare to work program extends beyond the cliff effect to how cost of living plays out through the entire process in different counties.

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