Military Deployment, Classroom Birthdays and Sand and Water Table Ideas

Welcome to the third issue of the Preschool Plan-It Primer, a free monthly newsletter from Preschool Plan-It!

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April, 2011 Issue # 3

In This Issue:

Affects of Military Deployment on Preschoolers

Tips & Timesavers: Preschool Birthday Celebration Planning

Interest Center Focus: Sand And Water Table Ideas

What’s New? Search It, Find It, Plan It!

Affects of Military Deployment on Preschoolers

The Department of Defense reports that approximately 2 million children in the United States are in a military family and approximately 200,000 children have a parent at war at any given time.

Many military families seemingly take military deployment as a given and in stride. Many families do not, especially when you add a preschooler to that mix. Preschoolers do not know how to take a parent being away for extended periods of time “in stride”.

Preschool children’s lives are based on daily routines and it is how they “tell time”. When they brush their teeth at night, for example, they know what comes next- perhaps a story or prayer with a parent and then time for bed. If you try to tuck a preschooler into bed who is used to this type of routine, they will be confused and the conversation may be something like:

Parent: “Time for bed! Hop under the covers.”

Preschooler: “It’s not bedtime yet!”

Parent: “Yes it is. It’s 7:30.”

Preschooler: “No, it’s not! It’s not bedtime!”

Parent: (pointing at clock), “Sweetie, it really is 7:30. It’s time for bed.”

Preschooler: “But I didn’t brush my teeth!”

They do not necessarily want to brush their teeth for the dental hygiene benefits! They want to brush their teeth because that is their routine; it is how they know it is bedtime.

With a military parent deployed, you can imagine how many daily routines will now be different for your preschool student. This confusion may show itself in behavioral issues not typical for this child.

A research study on the affects of deployment on preschoolers (1) notes hitting, biting and hyperactivity as the most reported behavioral changes.

The children are reacting not only to a parent being away for an extended period, but also to the additional stress of the increased responsibilities on the parent not deployed. Preschoolers pick up on this stress naturally.

They also will notice the reduced time spent with the parent still at home due to the parent’s increased responsibilities.

The American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists offered 5 pieces of advice for families to consider when one parent’s military deployment is nearing.

I’ve added advice for strategies that we, as teachers and caregivers, can apply in our classrooms.

1. Stick with routines; maintain consistency.

Families should try their best to keep their daily routines (such as morning routines, bedtimes and daily chores) as consistent as possible as the deployment date nears.

Teachers should, as discussed above, keep routines the same. The consistency and predictability will help the preschooler feel more secure.

2. Communicate often and always.

Families: The Associations recommend that families share news, feelings and strategies to overcome sad feelings and to avoid minimizing what is happening. Children cannot tell time. The family can help the children have a visual time reminder by creating a countdown calendar to count the days until the parent leaves or comes home.

Teachers: Telling a child that Mommy or Daddy will be back soon will most likely not be understood by the preschooler. Their SOON and our SOON is very different. Find out from the parents when the deployed parent will return so that you can show the preschooler on a calendar should they ask when Mommy or Daddy are coming home.

3. Keep kids (and spouse) involved in healthy habits.

We all burn off stress and worry in our own ways! We may talk on the phone with friends, go to the gym or just tap our foot incessantly! Preschoolers need strategies to reduce stress also!

Families: Encourage the parent to include their preschooler on a daily walk to burn off any stress or anxiety together and for some nice together time.

Teachers: If you notice that this preschooler has a lot of energy at a certain time of day, they probably need to burn it off! Consider adding a music and movement, gross motor or outside time to your day for all the children during this time.

4. Adopt a good behavior plan.

Families should keep the same behavior expectations and consequences in place after a parent is deployed. Young children understand consistency. Letting unacceptable behaviors slide at home can allow those behaviors to become regular behaviors.

Teachers: As discussed above, it is so important to keep your routines and expectations the same before the deployment and after. Yes, be aware that this child is feeling angry and frustrated due to being separated from their parent. Do not, however, allow inappropriate behaviors to “slide” because you know where it’s coming from. It’s still not o.k. to hurt our friends or throw our toys. Be consistent with these expectations and redirect the child acting out. Let them know you understand that they are angry, however you cannot let them _________ (throw toys, push others, etc.).

5. Demonstrate and verbalize your love.

Families: The advice from the Associations for families here is “Hug long, hard and often!” The amount of stress the parent at home is under is tremendous. Their thoughts are in 19 different directions. Remind them to take a break and just be-read a story with their kids and take time for an extra hug!

Teachers: Reach out to families. Offer books or book lists to help with this time of separation for their children. Also, send cards to the parent at home to remind her or him that you are thinking of them!

Military deployment may be for several weeks or for a year. Regardless of the amount of time, remember that time is not concrete for preschool children. Even a week away from a parent can feel like an eternity to a child. Be aware of changes in behavior and keep the communication with parents open and constant!

1. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162(11):1009-1014.

You will find an extended version of this article that includes suggestions you can pass on to families, a book list and other online resources regarding military deployment at my website:


TIPS and TIMESAVERS: Planning Birthday Celebrations in Your Classroom

Do you have a Birthday Celebration policy or philosophy for your classroom? Birthdays are a huge deal…especially when you’ve only had 3 of them or less in your lifetime!

If you don’t have a plan for birthdays, I highly recommend that you (and your team) meet together to decide on one. Children are creatures of habit and if something is done for one child at their birthday but not for another child, you KNOW they will not only be aware of it, but call you out on it!

Some questions to consider when deciding how you will treat birthdays:

Is it ok for snacks to be provided by the family for snack time?

Is sending in a cake or cupcakes okay with your program?

What will you do about allergies or food restrictions? Is there a concern about too much sugar?

Will you use an actual candle on the snack or treat? Who will provide this?

Will the child have a special crown or chair or classroom job on their special day? Who will be responsible to prepare these items?

Will you announce to the families that it is someone’s birthday? (Such as a poster outside the classroom, newsletter or calendar announcement, etc.)

Do you have a special birthday song to sing?

Will the child receive a special gift or card from the teachers? How will you celebrate birthdays that fall on a day of the week that the child is absent or not in school (such as weekend birthdays or summer birthdays for children not in school in the summer)? Will you celebrate birthdays ON each child’s birthday or will you have a birthday celebration once a month for everyone with a birthday that particular month? Will you have an “un-birthday” celebration for those who will not be in your program on their birthday?

You will come up with other questions and/or ideas as you brainstorm. Once you have decided on how you will handle birthdays, write it up officially. Have each of the teachers review it and think about other questions/concerns and then meet again to make changes.

Once you have a final birthday policy, so to speak, start planning for the year:

1. Let the families know how birthdays are handled in your classroom. Distribute the information so that the families are aware and can all be consistent.

2. Purchase in advance any items you will need for the year! Birthday banner, cards, token gifts that you give from the children (book, stickers, etc.), crowns, candles, tablecloth, etc.

3. Assign responsibility for birthdays: Who will prepare for each birthday? If it will be announced in the school or class newsletter, is that person aware of the children’s birthdates?

Turning 3 or 4 or 5 is a big deal! Handling it consistently for each child will make that day a special one for your students-they will look forward to their special day in school!

To read how we handle birthdays in our classroom, CLICK HERE

INTEREST CENTER FOCUS: The Sand and Water Table Center

The Sand and Water Table, or Sensory Table, is the highlight in many classrooms! However, we sometimes feel bored with having “just” sand or water in the table; are not sure what else to put in the table and are not sure how long to leave a specific material in the table.

We know that children need time to explore and investigate materials before grasping larger concepts. For example, in the math center, you may have plastic “chain” links available.

Before having the children sort by color or try to link them together, it is best to simply have the materials out for a day or two for them to investigate on their own.

The Sand and Water table is no different! If you want to work on counting and estimating how many cups of water or sand it will take to fill a specific sized bowl, you should first give the children time to just scoop the water and sand! Give them time to explore the feel the textures of the material in the table.

Time Allow this type of investigation for a day or so. Once they’ve had time to explore, begin introducing the concepts you’d like to work on. From there, see how long the interest in that material you’ve selected lasts for the children. This is the best way to decide when to change the contents of the table.

I’d recommend leaving each material out for one week (possibly longer if there is still high interest). One week allows enough time for the children to use the material multiple times but not enough time that they become bored with it!


Of course, sand and water! Looking for other materials you can add for a change? Here are some ideas:

Shaving Cream; Ice cubes or ice shavings (try coloring the water with food coloring before freezing—rainbow ice!); Snow; Homemade goop or gak; Flour and water; Potting soil and seeds; Dried beans

One of our teachers added dried leaves in the fall. After about a week, she added foam letters for the children to have a letter scavenger hunt in the leaves!

I’d recommend a rotating schedule such as:

Week 1- water

Week 2- sand

Week 3- Surprise (shaving cream, flour and water, etc.)

Week 4- nature items (or other items from other areas of your classroom such as lacing beads!).

Plan It!

Be sure that part of your classroom planning includes deciding on plans for your sensory table. There are many concepts and objectives that can be met in this area from math (measuring); fine motor development (scooping and using spoons); science (adding nature items such as leaves or dirt) and more!

To read about what children learn at the sensory table, how you can prepare the table and other ideas for materials to put in the table, go to my Sand and Water Table Interest Center pageBY CLICKING HERE

WHAT’S NEW? Search It, Find It, Plan It as Preschool Plan-It!

The following pages were added to the website during the past month:

THEMES Fairy Tales Theme Page

Growing Flowers Theme Page

Kite and Wind Activities Theme Page

Planting Seeds Theme Page

Rain Forest Theme Page

Spring Theme Page

St. Patrick’s Day Theme Page


Death of a Pet Page

Military Deployment and Preschoolers

Using Progress Reports as a Planning Tool

Comments? Ideas for future newsletters? Feedback? This newsletter is written FOR you, so I'd love to hear from you. Just reply to this zine and tell me what you think!

Until Next Month, Cheryl