By Susan Sholar

How many times have you been in a classroom and witnessed children playing?  Have you ever walked in and thought, “Is there any method to this madness?”  As early childhood educators we schedule open ended play or free play periodically throughout the day.  This is a time when preschool children are able to choose their activity, center or learning tote and play.  What you might not know is this “playtime” has a purpose.   Teachers design classroom environments, sensory totes, and learning centers with a particular purpose behind each one (a learning objective).  It is deliberate, intentional and strategic.  Each center and learning tote is designed to enhance specific skills; and materials are stocked and rotated to support developmental milestones.  So in answer to the question above, there is definitely a method to the madness in a quality preschool class.  When some might say, “Wow, how do you keep up with all of this?” the teachers smile because they know through play they are teaching children about the world around them while meeting learning objectives.


The Sunshine Academy uses the Montana Early Standards (MELS) as a guide when arranging and stocking learning environments.  Each center and tote supports learning through play in the core domains of:  emotional and social, physical, communication, and cognition developments. 

EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT – developing self-awareness and self-control, staying on task, self-expression

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT – forming relationships in the classroom with other children and adults

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT- children to use their bodies with increasing purpose, skill, and control

  • Fine Motor Skills—small muscle strength, coordination
  • Gross Motor Skills—large muscle strength, coordination
  • Sensorimotor—explore environment, develop skills through sight, smell, touch, taste, sound

COMMUNICATION DEVELOPMENT – exchanging information through a common system of signs, gestures, symbols, and behaviors

  • Language Development—emerging ability of children to communicate with others to build relationships, share meaning, and express needs
  • Literacy—develops as children become aware of the relationship between the written and spoken word

COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT – Building of concept knowledge and thinking skills


WOW!  I bet you never imagined so much conscious thought went into designing quality learning environments which provide ample opportunities for play. With that being said, I would like to introduce you to The Sunshine Academy’s official 2020 theme (method to our madness) …PLAY WITH A PURPOSE!  Stay tuned for updates throughout the year. 

For further detailed explanations and supports you can access The Montana Early Learning Standards http://www.mtecp.org/pdfs/Montana%20Early%20Learning%20Standards.pdf.




Childcare Rock Star

Kind. Funny. Nurturing. Guidance Professional. Quiet but mighty. Strong teacher.” Words the Sunshine Staff uses to describe Brittney. Ms. Brittney embodies the core value of “family”. One of my favorite parts of the day is when she gets here in the morning and all the children in her class flock to the front door to greet her with a hug and a smile. childcare-rockstar She is a rock star every day in their eyes. (And ours) You are making a difference by letting your light shine and we are proud to have you on the Sunshine Team.

Mom Guilt

mom-hugging-daughter---sm-medEarlier this week I wrote a letter to all of our new Mamas reminding them they were divinely chosen to be their child’s mom.  I do this because every year during the first week I witness an immense amount of Mom Guilt.  I watch mamas who have spent countless hours researching curriculum, comparing teaching philosophies, reading reviews and touring preschools to make sure their child gets the very best.  I see them struggle with the transition into the new school year and I hear them say things like, “I feel so bad for leaving them” or “I’m not sure if I am doing the right thing.”  All too often these statements evolve into even more negative thoughts such as: “If I am happy while I’m away from my child, I must be a bad mom” or “If I am excited to go to work, I must be a bad mom” or the one I see the most “A good mom would never want or need a break from their child.  I do.  I must be a bad mom.”  And so, the Mom Guilt sets in. I get it.  I am a mom of two and have felt the pangs of Mom Guilt.  I know we are programed to want nothing but the best for our children.  I know change is hard and I understand how easy it is to second guess your decisions.  I’ve spent my fair share of nights worrying over my choices.  I realize we often show love to our children by sacrificing parts of our lives to make sure theirs are amazing.  However, I believe that all too often by trying to do it all perfectly, by sacrificing ourselves and by giving into the Mom Guilt we lose sight of the person we are meant to be. Mamas- you need to know and believe you can’t pour from an empty cup.  It is impossible to function at your highest capacity if you don’t first take care of yourself.  You need others to help you raise your child to be the best possible version of themselves.  This isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.  You are recognizing you are just one person and there is an amazing world of other unique individuals who can offer your child even more.  Stop second guessing yourself and have faith.  Look at the hard work you put into every decision you make for you child and give yourself some grace. Find yourself a tribe of other mamas who get it and have been there.  Give yourself permission to give and be 100% wherever you are; whether it is at home with your child or at work or enjoying a pedicure.  The next time you find yourself worrying about your child while they are at preschool, ask yourself, “Would I want my child to spend their entire day worrying about me?”  NO!  The best way to teach your child is to model it.  Do it.  Be present in every moment. Take good care of yourself and trust that you were divinely chosen to be your child’s mama.

Back To School

Back school backpack back to school art objects school background color

It seems a bit unreal that we are already seeing “Back to School” items showing up on the shelves.  And, as much as I would like to extend summer, I know the new school year will be here before you know it.  For many of you this might be your first “Back to School” experience.  I will never forget the first time I dropped my daughter off at school for the first time.  Oh, the emotions that came… from both of us.

I have learned a lot during my time in the Early Childhood Field.  Would you believe me if I told you there is a secret recipe to helping your child transition successfully into the school year?  I promise, these 8 tips are sure to make your kiddo’s first week of school easier, for both of you.

  1. Establish a Bedtime Routine – Learning is hard work and the average preschooler needs 10-13 hours of sleep ever day! If your child is a night owl, start moving up their bed time 15 minutes every couple of days right now!
  2. Get Excited! Your child is looking to YOU for cues about this new adventure. Most children are a little nervous.  If you are excited and confident they will do great, chances are they will believe you.
  3. Create a Quick Drop Off Routine – Okay mama, I know this one is the hardest but I promise it is the most important! I recommend keeping goodbyes quick, less than 5 minutes. Long drawn out goodbyes are hard on everyone.  You end up crying, your child ends up crying, even the teacher ends of crying!  Preschool Teachers are literally the experts on redirecting kids; it’s in their job descriptions.  And, we promise to call if there is any reason for concern.
  4. Keep Your Child Informed – Knowledge builds trust. Conversations like this help alleviate anxiety: “Tomorrow I will drop you off at Preschool before I go to work.  You will get to play and learn with other kids.  I will pick you up after rest time and you can tell me all about your day.”
  5. Keep Us Informed – Late bedtime, not eating well, stress at home, changes in schedules – keeping us informed about anything that may affect your child’s behavior helps us stay on top of our game, especially when your kiddo needs some extra TLC.
  6. Use This Phrase – “Tell me the 3 best things about your day.” This simple phrase helps you focus on the positive aspects of school. Who knows, they may even ask you about your day.  And, who couldn’t use a little extra positivity?
  7. Introduce Yourself, Often - At the beginning of the school year, as hard as we try, sometimes we don't remember or recognize everyone. We love getting to know our families and really appreciate friendly reminders.
  8. Ask Questions - We want you to feel as comfortable with our program as possible. If something is unclear we are just a phone call, email or quick conversation away.

The Imperfect Mom

To say the morning was rough is an understatement. It was one of “those” mornings. You know, the morning where nobody wants to get up, everyone is missing a sock, shoe or backpack, and no matter how fast you go you find yourself at least 5 minutes behind schedule. As the morning progressed, I found myself more and more flustered and before I knew it I had grouched at both of my kids leaving all of us in tears. “Definitely not winning Mom of the Year,” I thought.

Does this sound familiar? I see it every day; parents continually beating themselves up because they didn’t do this or they should have done that. I’ve been there many times. Truthfully, more than I would like to admit. Nobody tells you the hardest realization as a parent is the day you understand no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want to be perfect, you are going to fail your child sometimes. The guilt that follows this realization can be paralyzing. I remember living in an idyllic pre-child world in which my children always ate organic foods, never misbehaved in public and I had the patience of a saint. Boy, was I living in a fantasy!

IMG_2910What if we have it all wrong? What if our parenting failures are actually our greatest teaching moments? What if as we beat ourselves up about every mishap or mistake we make, we are actually robbing our children of some strong life lessons? As biased as we are about our children, we all know they are not perfect. And I, for one, do not want my children to ever feel they have to be perfect. Yet they see me hold myself to an impossible standard. They see me become overwhelmed and frustrated when I make a mistake or life feels like it is too much. They see me mess up… a lot. Something has to change.

I can work harder. I can take steps to improve. Unfortunately, I will never be the perfect mom. But, I CAN teach my children how to use failure as a catapult for success. I can use every slip-up as a learning opportunity and show them how to pick up the pieces and continue. I can teach my children to have grit and confidence. I can make every mistake count and mean something. My children will see me take accountability. They will see me apologize and make amends. They will see me handle my errors in judgment with the practices I hope they will use when they find themselves in similar situations.

Life is messy and the greatest lessons I have learned are the result of many failures. I can’t be the perfect mom but I can model how to persevere in the face of failure. Besides loving one another, this may be the greatest lesson of all. If I can teach them this, I think I can embrace being a very imperfect mom.


Teach Your Child to See the Good

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There is a shift that has taken place; a shift that as a parent and educator shakes me to my core.  Our children are growing up in a culture where it has become easy to focus on the worst in others while receiving praise for doing so.  Don’t believe me – watch the news or better yet check your social media feed.  Having a bad day? Post about it.  Receive poor customer service?  Post about it.  Feel injustice of any kind? Post about it.  And people go bonkers jumping on the bandwagon screaming, “Justice must be done. Someone must pay.” How do we combat this shift?  Do we really want a new generation of people growing up without the capacity to practice empathy, forgiveness or focus on what is possible rather than what is wrong?  I know I don't.  As parents and educators we are going to remain vigilant in our mission to teach our children how to see the good.  This is by far more important than any academic lesson we will teach.  The good news is this may not be as hard as we think and I believe this skill can be taught by using one simple phrase. One evening on our drive home from preschool my daughter told me nobody wanted to play with her.  As a mom, my heart sunk.  Nobody wants their child to feel alone and secluded.  I proceeded to do what any rational mother would do and ask her a plethora of questions.  The next day I marched into her classroom and asked the teacher if she knew just why nobody wanted to play with Sophia.  Her teacher was rather surprised.  Apparently somewhere between the classroom and our car ride, Sophia had forgotten all about her adventures with several of her friends.  The next evening our conversation repeated, “Nobody wanted to play with me today.”  And this same story continued for the next few days.  I had been in contact with Sophia’s teacher and she assured me she continued to have good days and was playing just fine with a variety of kids. I began to wonder: Had I somehow given Sophia the idea that I paid more attention to her when she had stories of a negative nature than when she shared positive victories.  When was the last time I showed as much concern over her having a great day as I did the day she told me “nobody wanted to play with me?”  The next day I was prepared for our evening drive home with a new strategy that has forever impacted our conversations.  Before Sophia even had a chance to share her woes for the day I said this simple phrase, “Tell me three good things that happened today.” These eight words, which cost nothing, are the key to combating the negative shift in our culture.  Will our children experience hurt, frustration and loss? Absolutely.  Do we want these negative experiences to become their only reality, or worse their identity? No way!  The greatest gift we can pass on to our children, the strongest coping mechanism we can share, is to choose to see the good in the midst of the ugly. Over time our conversations have shifted and I am happy to say they usually begin with the victories and good Sophia has experienced during the day.  We still talk about the challenges, however, instead of focusing on the injustice that may have been done we work together to problem solve ways to move the problem to the victories list. Looking for a few more phrases to try out with your child? Check out the list below.

  • Tell me three things you are thankful for today.
  • Tell me about a time you were strong/brave/kind today.
  • Tell me about when you were the happiest today.
  • Tell me about a time you helped someone today.
  • Tell me about a time someone helped you.
  • Tell me about a time you did something that you didn’t think you could do.
  • Tell me when you worked hard.

*Side note* I have found it to be more successful to engage in deeper conversations using phrases rather than asking questions.  For example, if you said, “Can you tell me three good things that happened today?” often the child will simply say, “No.”  boi1

Take the Pain out of Daylight Savings

Daylight Savings is right around the corner and, as nice as it is having some extra daylight in the evening, this transition often poses a struggle for parents.  Fear not, there are a few simple tricks you can use to help this transition be a little less painful.


1. Begin the transition TODAY!  Moving bed time up 10 minutes/day for the next 6 days is by far the easiest way to make this transition.  Keep your bedtime routine the same and chances are your child won’t even realize it.  And don’t stop there, move up your morning routine 10 minutes/day as well.  This takes a little effort on your part, but I promise it is well worth avoiding the Monday after Daylight Savings Meltdown.

2. Don’t sleep in this weekend… Sorry!  Kids are creatures of habit and if your kiddos are like mine, they usually don’t sleep in on the weekend anyways.  Help them continue to wake up a few minutes earlier.  This will prevent you from undoing all the work you have already put in helping your child transition.

3. Increase your child’s level of physical activity in the evenings.  This is another great way to help your child get to bed a little earlier during this transition.  This can be anything from additional outdoor time, to a game of Twister, to walking a few extra laps around the grocery store.  You can bet your child’s teacher is busy planning extra gross motor events this week!

4. No Screen Time 30 minutes before bed.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, screen time right before bed can increase the amount of time needed to fall asleep as well as the quality of sleep your child receives.  When it comes to bedtime routines, our recommendation is to replace screen time with more calming activities such as reading books, warm baths or even telling make believe stories.

5. Look for actions you can do ahead of time that will reduce the amount of time it takes to get out the door.  This way, if your child still can’t get out of bed as early as they need to, you don’t need to stress.  Some suggestions are: lay your child’s clothes out the night before, plan quick and easy breakfasts, and get backpacks ready ahead of time and lay them by the front door or even put them in the car.

These few steps should be just the ticket to helping smooth out your Daylight Savings Transition.  And, if all else fails, just grab an extra cup of coffee… for your child’s teacher. ;)



4 Things I Wish Every Parent Knew About ECE Teachers

In the past 13 years I have watch the field of Early Childhood Development change dramatically. Long gone are the days of “glorified babysitting” and there is much more understanding, especially by parents, of the hard work and dedication that goes into every carefully planned day. However, there are still a few things I wish every parent knew about the remarkable people who choose this profession.


  1. Please don’t call us “daycare providers”. The truth of it is, we work relentless hours planning to care for children - not days. We are child advocates who insist on child first language, even when it comes to our job descriptions. Although there may be no ill intent meant, referring to us as the “daycare provider” is like calling us a dirty word.We plan free play - on purpose.  Contrary to popular belief, free play is not just what happens when we didn’t get our lesson plan completed. We intentionally plan open ended - child lead play because we understand the immense educational value it provides our students. And often, this is when our most meaningful work occurs. Sharing, empathy, negotiation, independence, cause and effect, leadership, self-help and so many other skills are learned best during play that is mediated by the teacher.

    We don’t have all the answers.  Have you ever been at a complete loss because you feel like you have tried everything with your child and nothing is working. Spoiler alert: some days we feel that way too. Most teachers have 16 (or more) students they must understand and meet the needs of, and double the number of parents! I’m not saying we can’t help you in times of defeat. However, when we are in the trenches of trial and error and haven’t quite found the answer to best support your child, a little bit of grace and patience goes a long way.  We promise to do the same with you.  We are experts at finding answers and do not stop until we do.

    Our greatest reward is watching your child succeed. We know intimately your child’s weaknesses as well as we know their strengths. There is nothing that gives us greater joy than watching your child write their name for the first time, share a toy with a friend, demonstrate empathy or follow a 2 step direction. This is the fuel that keeps us going. One of the best gifts we can receive is listening to you share the victories you see with us.

    The bottom line is this “job” is our calling. We know deep in our bones teaching children and molding the future is what we were put on this earth to do. We are NOT simply in it for the money. Most of us have to worked jobs where we made more and worked less. We understand the immense responsibility and privilege of this calling and wouldn’t trade it for the world.


Sara Schreiner is the President of The Sunshine Academy. She has worked in Early Childhood Education since 2001. In 2016, she was recognized nationally at the Child Care Success Summit for her leadership in Early Childhood Programs and has served as the representative for Child Care Centers on the Best Beginnings Advisory Council. Sara is a Level 7 on the Montana Practitioners’ Registry, a registered Mentor for the Department of Labor Apprenticeship Program and a Level III Professional Development Specialist for the State of Montana.