Celebrating Birthdays in a Time of Social Distancing

When our state started to shut things down, like most people, my husband and I started to think about what would be cancelled and what part of our lives would be changed. My husband stopped working, I adjusted to working from home, and our social lives were put on hold.

The event that was weighing on us the most was our daughter’s upcoming 4th birthday. We had already started talking to her about her party, asking her to choose her party theme. She’s old enough to remember her last birthday, so she knows that her family should be coming to her house to celebrate with her. Quickly, we stopped talking about her birthday party, hoping that it would be forgotten.

How could we make this a special day for her? How could we ensure that she still feels loved, even though her family and friends wouldn’t be able to celebrate with her? We wanted to make sure we did our best to help her still feel connected to the routines and special traditions that she’s come to associate with birthdays.

We used every decoration that we had in the house. The rooms where we spend most of our day all got special treatment – complete with “lots of balloons”, as requested by our daughter.

We put a “Honk for Emery’s 4th Birthday!” sign at the end of our driveway. We told Emery that the cars that honked was wishing her a happy birthday, and made a big deal of noticing the honks even when we were inside.

Family members came to visit – they were able to sing “Happy Birthday” to her in person! We talked with them from the porch while they stayed on the driveway. We’ve told Emery that people are getting sick, so she knew that she had to keep her distance.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all joined in a ZOOM meeting to sing to Emery and watch as she blew out her candles. She was able to talk to them about her day, and show them the presents she had received (very important for a 4 year old).

From the moment she woke up, we made sure that the whole day was about her.

We think that the day was a success – Emery seemed to enjoy her special day, and never even asked about having a party. Hopefully next year, we can throw her a big 5th birthday bash!

Simple Activities to Try at Home

No matter what your situation is during this time, we are all looking for more activities to do with our children as they’re staying at home.

My teammates and I at Doodle Bugs! Children’s Learning Academy feel lucky to have our early childhood backgrounds – we’re able to take activities that would traditionally be done in the classroom and implement them for our children at home. We’ve been sharing these activities in video format so that families can take the ideas and try them at their own home.

If you’re looking for some new ideas to engage your children, then check out some of the links below! And if you’re not ready yet, that’s okay too. Give yourself time, and grace. We’re all getting through this the best that we can.


Gross Motor



And if you’re looking for tips on establishing a daily schedule, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26jT1jqkvN0

Thank you for supporting Building Joyful Classrooms 2019!

Wow! What a day! Our second annual conference came together beautifully on October 19th at ECC’s South Campus, when 250 early childhood educators and a team of volunteers spent a sunny Saturday CHOOSING JOY.



  • Dr. Lynn Lubecki, Early Care and Education Strategies Director for Rochester’s Children’s Institute, set the tone for the day with a beautiful message about mindfulness and choosing joy, and understanding that all behavior is communication. It was the perfect message to carry with us throughout the day — and always.
  • The Track 1 agenda focused on attachment and interactions, reminding us that all learning happens within the context of relationships. Whether you were learning more about child development with Bridget & Kim, discussing routines and expectations with Maryann & Kelly, making music with Megan, or adding teaching strategies to your toolbox with Denise & Gerald, the recurring themes were warm, positive interactions, meaningful relationships, and the benefits of choosing joy.
  • The Track 2 agenda was equally focused on social-emotional learning. Lindsay reminded us of the importance of understanding love languages, Shannon & Amanda added some preventative strategies to our toolkits, and Sharon, Kelly, and Caitlin, the fabulous team from Best Self, introduced us to the power of PCIT and TCIT.
  • Last but not least, every option for the culminating session was a powerful opportunity to ensure that you could apply what you had learned:
    • The make & take made it possible for teachers to bring content directly to children (you can’t go wrong with a sock baby or a Tucker Turtle). A million thanks to Silvia for organizing!
    • The Leadership Debrief focused on how managers can support program-wide implementation with small, incremental steps. Christina was happy to facilitate on behalf of DAL.
    • Vito and Sarah‘s yoga session was the perfect self-care component. As they said, a joyful classroom requires a joyful you!

Thank you to everyone who shared this day with us, including the tireless committee members and volunteers, the local businesses who kindly donated gift cards and other giveaways, and our generous sponsors. We extend special thanks to:


It’s truly a pleasure to be building joyful classrooms with all of you.

  • Looking for copies of presenters’ slides? You’ll find them in our site’s Helpful Handouts tab.
  • Want to follow up with one of the presenters? Send us a Facebook message and we will connect you.
  • Did you complete our feedback survey yet? It only takes 2 minutes, but it is super helpful as we plan for future events. (PS – if you have completed it, thank you — we hear you and we appreciate you!)
  • As a small group of volunteers, taking on an event of this size was a challenge — but as they say, teamwork makes the dream work! We recognize that there were some logistical challenges and we’ll learn from them — we’re already planning our 2020 calendar!

Building Joyful Classrooms 2019: Featured Speakers

Presenters have been confirmed for Building Joyful Classrooms 2019, which will be held at ECC South Campus on Saturday, October 19. Check out this line up:


Our keynote address, CHOOSING JOY: WE WERE MADE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, will be presented by Dr. Lynn Lubecki (NYS Pyramid Model Master Cadre Trainer and Research Associate at the Rochester Children’s Institute). Dr. Lubecki won the first Pyramid Model Champion Award at the Pyramid Model National Meeting in 2018 and has worked in early childhood education for more than 20 years.


  • Loving Children: The Foundation for Understanding Development will be presented by Bridget Palmer (Liberty POST) and Kim Hauptman (Buffalo Hearing and Speech).
  • Infant Toddler Specialists, Maryann Ciskal and Kelly Janese, will present Routines & Expectations: Blueprints for Success.
  • Megan Coltoniak, conference chairperson and owner of Bloom Creative Arts, will present Fix it Before It Breaks: Musical Strategies to Help Your Day.
  • Gerald Smith (Help Me Grow) and Denise Roty (Buffalo Hearing and Speech) return for an encore presentation of Healthy Social Development: Tools for Teaching.


  • Which Love Languages are you Speaking? will be presented by Lindsay Leusch (Kangarootime).
  • Specialists from Best Self will present an Intro to Teacher-Child Interaction Therapy (TCIT) and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).
  • Preventative Strategies to Add to Your Toolkit will be presented by Shannon Ochal (Gateway) and Amanda McPhereson (Bloom Creative Arts).


  • A Make & Take Session will be facilitated by Silvia Steele (Holy Cross Head Start).
  • An introduction to Radiant Child Yoga will be presented by Sarah & Vito Gigante (Cantalician Center for Learning).
  • A Leadership Debrief for Directors will be facilitated by Christina Fecio, Educational Consultant and WNY Behavior Collaboration chairperson.

Need more event info? Check out the flyer here and order tickets here.



No one likes to wait.

When I ask training participants to detail their typical classroom routine, most teachers have a list of 15+ transitions before lunch.  In fact, many teachers realize that their schedule includes about 10 transitions every two hours. Multiply that by the 8-10 hours that many children spend in our care and whoa.


That’s A LOT of time spent in transitions… which can often mean A LOT of time spent waiting.

Most adults struggle with waiting — just thinking about the long lines at the DMV or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room makes me twitch! — so why do we expect children to wait patiently and compliantly, every single day?

The bad news? Transitions can be troubling — noisy, hectic, and a breeding ground for challenging behaviors.

The good news? With purposeful planning, teachers can reduce wait times and transform transitions into engaging learning opportunities.


3 Strategies for Smoother Transitions:

  • Be consistent. Establish a habit of consistently using a transition warning AND a transition signal (in addition to a verbal direction).
    • transition warning (such as “5 more minutes” with a visual countdown) lets children know that an activity will end soon.
    • A transition signal accompanies a verbal direction and may be auditory (ringing a bell, singing a song),  visual (turning off lights), or gestural (pointing to a picture on a posted schedule).
  • Be proactive. Eliminate “sit and wait” portions of the day — have lunch ready before calling children to the table, have centers already set up for when you return from the gym/outdoors, and consider all “line times” as opportunities to sing and move!
  • Be generous with positive attention. Know who needs extra attention & give it freely. Engage children as helpers, recognize their efforts, and provide lots of pre-correction/opportunities to practice expected behaviors (for example, explain and practice “walking feet” before someone starts running in the hallway).

Want to learn more?

  • Check out this list of 10 Simple Strategies that teachers can use to reflect/self-check their classroom routines and expectations.
  • Watch this quick video  (4 minutes) for an overview of why transitions matter and how teachers can make them smoother.




Do you see the princess?

3YO: “I love the card with the princess.”

♠️ How old were you when you realized the Ace of Spades (Bicycle brand) card has a “princess” in the middle? I was “today years old” 😂

This made me laugh, of course, but it also reminded me of two important things.

✅ Young children are *so* observant. They notice everything — whether you want them to or not! As I discussed with a group of teachers last night: when you choose to spend time with children, you’re choosing to be a role model.

✅ You see what you are looking for. It’s not a coincidence that my ‘3YO-always in a dress-tiara loving-princess obsessed’ niece noticed the “princess” in the deck of cards. Human beings are hardwired to look for familiarity and for confirmation…which is why it’s so important to “think about what you think.”

👎🏻 If you’re a teacher who believes that a child is challenging, you’re more likely to find evidence of challenging behavior.

👎🏻 If you’re a coworker who believes that your colleague is lazy/not hardworking, you’re more likely to find evidence of subpar performance … and so on.

Fortunately, the opposite also holds true.

❤️ If you’re a person who believes in positive intent, you’re more likely to find evidence of generous, thoughtful behavior.

❤️ If you’re a person who believes in optimism (the “that glass is refillable!” kind), you’re more likely to find evidence of second chances, resilience, and kindness.

You can see the princess… but you have to look for it first. ❤️