Dr. Rebecca Isbell’s Blog

New CD Available:  Songs Too Good To Miss with Dr. Isbell and traditional American Music that every child will enjoy!

The  Story:

There is an explosion of new information and research about the positive impact that music can have on young children’s brain development.  Many articles have identified the “window of opportunity” that makes young children primed to benefit from listening and participating in music.

This renewed interest in the power of music supports what we as early childhood educators and professionals have long believed – music should be an integral part of our lives. Music is valued because it enhances intellectual development, stimulates brain function, and promotes language and math development, while it nurtures creative thinking.

Music also brings us together, builds relationships, and helps us feel part of a group, community, or country. With this in mind, I began collecting traditional songs that are a part of our American Heritage.  Music that helps recognize our roots, while reconnecting us to our families, and our country.

The songs included in this CD are part of our American Tradition and can help us connect and appreciate our rich musical heritage.  In addition, the songs are accompanied by traditional instruments that children can recognize such as fiddle, guitar, banjo, and drums. Many children have never heard these songs, or participated in music that connects them to their community. Listen to the songs, sing along, and extend the experience with the appropriate musical activities that I have included in the 24 page booklet.

Enjoy the music, sing, clap, and tap your toes.  Recognize that music is to be treasured, passed on, and valued for the wonderful connections that can be made to our children, their families, and our American heritage!

Special Features:

  • Appropriate songs for children
  • Easy to sing-along
  • All lyrics to songs included in booklet
  • Brief American history of each song in booklet
  • Names of all traditional instruments identified
  • Music activities to follow up or expand on all of the songs
  • Variety of music including: old traditional songs, animal songs, regional music, and songs of celebration


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Giraffes in Africa

We have just returned from a two week tour of South Africa – an amazing adventure.

It is a diverse country with pristine coastlines and towering mountains. The national reserves are filled with wild animals: lions, cheetahs, rhino, buffalo, zebra, and my favorite the giraffes.  I watched a family of baboons caring for their babies while two young ones were playing. There are also modern cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg that look very much like New York or Chicago with tall buildings, international companies, and banks.

Ben-and-BeckyBut most importantly, South Africa is filled with beautiful people who are working to unite their country and work together for the good of all.  Their spirit and pride in their country is inspiring. On the day of the national election people in the rural areas stood in line for hours to be able to vote.

I was privileged to see how music and dance binds the people of South Africa together and helps them deal with difficult times.  A group of young people sang to us in their village as we clapped our hands and swayed to the rhythm.  What the world needs is more cooperation, music, and joy!

University of Texas Early Childhood Conference

University of Texas Early Childhood Conference


It was wonderful to provide the keynote for the first annual Early Care Early Childhood Conference at University of Texas – Pan American in the Rio Grande Valley on April 26, 2014. The early childhood educators who attended this conference were responsive and joyfully interacted with me throughout the opening session and the workshop sessions that followed.


In this region, teachers are dedicated to creating the best environments possible to nurture their young children’s development and learning.  This was clearly demonstrated by their attendance at the conference on Saturday, and their desire to grow professionally.


14189060971_368afbc7a4_bFor a conference to function effectively, you must have capable leaders and other folks to help with the many tasks.  This professional development conference had both!   Outstanding faculty in Early Childhood, Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Medrano, created and led this amazing conference.  Many students volunteered their time, including graduate students and those from their student organization. They helped by working diligently and providing assistance.  This collaborative effort made the conference well managed, as well as informative, and inspiring.


I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of this conference, meet these delightful people, and be inspired by their dedication to young children!


If you attended this event, go here to download the handouts from my keynote.


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Early childhood spring environments

Spring has finally arrived!  All around us, redbud trees, dogwoods, tulips, and candytuft are in bloom.  This is one of my favorite times of the year.  All of my hard work in the fall, planting bulbs, is now paying off.  The dreary winter scene is being replaced with a colorful spring environment.

These changes remind me that when we are working with young children, some things take time.  We have to be patient, keep watering, and watching until something wonderful happens.  Their language explodes, they can zip their coat, or they are reading the pictures in their favorite book.

You know it is spring in your early childhood classroom when:

  • You need an enormous number of tissues.  There are lots of runny noses and sneezes.
  • There is more time spent outdoors in the sunlight.  Our flowers need sun.
  • A Greenhouse Center is being set up for seed planting and sprouting.
  • Muddy shoes are a constant feature of our space.
  • The Library Center is filled with books about spring, flowers, and plant catalogues.
  • In circle time we share “The Enormous Turnip” which leads to talk about gardens and cooperating on a project.
  • A beautiful bouquet of spring flowers is displayed for you and the children to enjoy.

Remember the joy of this wonderful year spent with the young children that you have nurtured and helped bloom!








I like to laugh, and many things make me laugh.  I have often been told, “I knew you were here because I heard you laughing.”

Sometimes I was embarrassed by my loud laugh. My dear mother used to tell me, “Shhh, you are being too loud.”

Perhaps I should be more controlled?

Research studies continue to find that laughing, especially energetic laughter is good for us in so many ways.  For all of you folks who laugh, rather than cry, here are some of the benefits from laughing out loud.

Benefits of laughter:

  1. It boosts your mood, and helps you feel more positive and happy.
  2. It increases your endorphins, the chemical that helps you feel good.
  3. A good laugh may improve immune function.
  4. In times of anxiety, it reduces stress.
  5. It brings people together.
  6. It helps us think more creatively.

When working with young children, so many funny things happen every day.  As the teacher we may have to contain our laughter. Oftentimes, young children do not understand the concept, “I am not laughing at you but with you.”

Enjoy the experiences, stories, and jokes that make you laugh.  Your day will be better because of the laughing!

Getting kids to help clean up

There is a lot of work to be done in the home and classroom.  Sometimes parents and teachers feel conflicted about asking young children to participate in housekeeping activities.  Many worry that adding additional work to an already busy young child will have negative consequences.

dustpanExperts have found that today’s parents and teachers are feeling tremendous pressure to enrich their children’s lives with academics, music lessons, sports, language classes, and other activities.  Although these activates many be beneficial for young children, it often leaves little time for family time or creative play.

Miriam Arond, director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, has stated that children need to help with chores to gain feelings of competence in life skills that will be beneficial now and in the future.  I have always believed that this involvement, with the operation of the classroom and home, help children feel that they are a contributing member.  It is often said, “We’re all in this together – we help each other.”

Arond further explains that, “This participation counter’s the sense of entitlement.”  It gives children recognition that they can do things that support the classroom or family.  It helps children recognize their role, feel secure, and strengthens their confidence.

It is important to begin these chores early, and not wait until the preteen years when it may be more difficult to begin.  Toddlers can be responsible for returning their toys to a storage area, sorting laundry by color, or preparing simple snacks.  Preschoolers can move to more complex tasks, such as cleaning tables, feeding a pet, or making their bed.   As they gain confidence, they can help in meal preparation, laundry, and dish washing.

cleaning2Involving children early on establishes a regular routine, and these chores become a part of their lives. For children who may be resentful, show them how to accomplish the task and what the final product looks like.

Remember, it is not important to clean or do a chore perfectly. Perfection is not the aim; the goal is to become a responsible person.  It is a learning process.  Support them with appropriate materials, such as large sponges, or wiping cloths. Praise and recognize their completed work.

There is no doubt that it is easier to do the work yourself, but it is important for the child to learn how to do the task to promote responsibility. Take the time to involve them, be consistent in your expectations, and observe the learning that is taking place.  Developing responsible children is good for them and their world!

I would love to hear about some of the tasks that you are doing with your young children.  Send me a story or an example that we can share with other teachers and parents!

Importance of Play

Play is a major avenue for learning in the preschool years. Many young children, however, have little experience playing and exhibit immature play skills when they enter early childhood programs.  A quality environment for young children must provide enriched opportunities for play that will lead to the learning benefits possible in this important activity.

Small Group

When children participate in small groups they have more opportunities to use language, influence the activity, and share ideas. In this small group fewer disagreements and conflicts occur since only 3-4 children are involved in the play. Therefore, this size group provides a safe place for children to develop skills, expand language and practice working with peers.

Block-center-displayOrganizing Centers

Learning Centers are an effective way to organize the classroom space to encourage small group participation. The theme or type of activity planned in the center will determine the props and materials that will be included to inspire the related learning, language, and participation. Learning Centers, such as Blocks, work best when a small number of children are working in the area and collaborating on a structure. In this block play learning is integrated as children learn about space relationships, math proportions; develop eye-hand coordination and talking about their construction. They are creatively problem solving as they determine how to build their structure or to make a building stronger. This play is encouraged by having a variety of blocks available, small props, and sufficient space for their building. Sound is absorbed by have a rug on the floor, foam or fabric blocks, and some soft seating.

Socio Dramatic Play

When children are mature players they use their imagination to create a substitute prop which is a symbol for the real object. They will begin to be involved in socio dramatic play considered to be a higher form of interactions. In this play young children create a sequence of events, take on roles, engage in collaboration, and become immersed in their play for long periods of time ( Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990) Many learning centers, where materials are organized around a  theme, encourage the development of this form a play. For example, Home Living, a traditional Center, provides the space and materials for children to take on the roles of family members and includes a kitchen where dinner can be prepared. In this play children chose a role, use language related to the home, and stay focused on the sequence of events they have created.

Providing Choices: Creative Thinking

When using learning centers in the classroom it is important for children to choose where they would like to go and to plan what they will do in the area. When children follow their interest their play will be more sustained and engaging.  An important step in the process of effectively using center is to provide time to reflect on Center time.  This discussion can include posing questions about what children did in the center, what they created, and determining if they want to return to that play scenario tomorrow.

Some Suggestions for Inspiring Center Play:

  • Provide Centers (themes) that will match children’s interest and enrich the play.
  • Provide sufficient time for in-depth play to occur. (This varies based on children but 40-60 minutes is often suggested)
  • Select materials, props, and toys that will support the theme and play. These should change over time.
  • Help children plan their play and reflect on it when Center time is concluded. Giving children opportunity to talk about their Center play encourages their involvement.
  • Co-play children who need help or pair them with a mature player. Both children grow from the experience where they are the mentor or the mentee.
  • Observe and record the children’s play and specific happenings to improve the environments. Writing down what you see helps you make plans and improvements for the Centers.  It also provides opportunity to observe “real” learning in action.

Play is a learning activity that should be nurtured in early childhood classrooms. Learning Centers provide the place, props, and peers where this development can occur.

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Bodrova E & Leong, D.J. Tools of the Mind:  The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education. (2007) 2nd edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Isbell, R. (2008). The Complete Book of Learning Centers, revised with CD. Beltsville, MD: Gryphon House.

Smilansky, S. & Shefatya, L. (1990) Facilitating play: A medium for promoting cognitive, socio-emotional and academic development in young children. Gaithersburg, MD: Psychosocial and Educational Publications.

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Dr. Isbell - Keynotes

One of the proven ways to increase the quality of early childhood programs is by providing focused and continued training for teachers.  When you are designing professional development opportunities for teachers in the coming months, consider the following elements.

  1. What are the specific needs of your teachers?  This should include your observations as well as a survey of teachers. Ask them to identify some of the areas where they need additional support.
  2. How can the topic/theme be followed over a period of time? This provides a way for teachers to be exposed to new ideas and gives time to implement and evaluate what they have done.  Professional development works best when extended over a reasonable time frame.
  3. Select an inspiring and knowledgeable speaker, preferably from outside your region. This can provide well researched information that will support the goals of your program for young children. Often the effective speaker will include information and methods you are already discussing, but a different voice can emphasize what you and others have said.
  4. Devise a plan to initiate the focus. Do so with a conference, workshop, or seminar where the keynote and small group sessions will focus on the topic. This shared experience sets the direction, and establishes the plan of professional development for your group.
  5. Determine how this idea can be followed, supported, and evaluated.  Select a time frame. For example; 6 months, a year, or longer. Can the main speaker return, meet with teachers later, and/or respond to them using technology?
  6. Support your teacher’s development. Implement ideas in their classrooms, observe their progress, and provide additional resources, such as books and websites that can be used over the time frame.

Professional development is an important way to support and enrich quality programs for young children.  Your dedication and planning will make it happen. We want the best teachers with young children!

Please contact me if you need assistance planning or brainstorming possibilities for your teachers.


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The Complete Learning Center Book Revised 2nd Edition

The Complete Book of Learning Centers, Revised. (2008). Gryphon House: Beltsville, MD. By Rebecca Isbell.

  1. Be sure to select Centers that match your children’s developmental level, interest, and experiences. Play is more complex when they know about the theme, roles, and props.
  2. Provide sufficient time for children to become deeply involved in Center play (30-50 minutes).
  3. Take a look at your management system: Do children understand how to make choices, follow through by going to that place, and cleaning up when finished?
  4. Add related books and writing tools to each Center, to increase literacy opportunities. A bedtime story book in housekeeping next to the baby crib or a pad/pencil in the restaurant for taking orders.
  5. Involve the children in creating props for the Centers. This increases their ownership of the space and encourages them to more responsible for the care of the items.
  6. Rotate in a “new” center into your classroom that will inspire different play, language, and roles. For example: “Camping”, “Fitness” or “Shoe Store.”
  7. Have a “grand opening” for a new Center, when it is added. Visit, talk, and model play in the Center during the opening.
  8. Create a big book of photos of children working in Centers. Place this popular book in the Library Center—watch them “read”.
  9. When interest in a Center is fading, add a new prop or new open-ended material. If this doesn’t work close the Center and bring it back at a later time.
  10. Be a floater, moving around the different Centers. You can observe and write-down meaningful learning that is occurring, including the child’s name and date of the observation. This is authentic assessment.
  11. After Center time, regroup for talking and reflecting, “What did you do during Center Time today?” Write down their ideas or let them create drawings of their work. Display reflections for children and parents to see.
  12. Make sure Center areas have clearly defined boundaries. Young children need to be able to see where each Center begins and the space it contains. Book cases or low screens, are example of effective dividers.
  13. Storage and display of items in Centers should be clearly labeled and easy to find. This helps the children be more independent in their play and see “new” options that will extend their play.
  14. If you only have a few Centers to use—partner with another teacher and share your Centers. This will increase the number of possibilities and provide your children with more opportunities.


If you have questions related to the effective use of Learning Centers in early childhood settings please contact me and we can talk further.

2014 Classroom Tips

Getting ready for the New Year?  It is great to have a new beginning filled with new possibilities. For the past few years, I have shared a list of new ideas that might jump start your work with children for the New Year.  This year I will share 14.  Some of these ideas might be new, but others may have been forgotten.  Let’s make 2014 the best year for you and your children!

  1. Sing more with your children. Sing at circle time and during transitions.  They can be theme related, or action songs.  Music lights up children’s brains through the process of participating, using words, and listening to sounds. Children also build a lifetime repertoire of familiar songs.  (Be watching for an exciting announcement for my new CD release in the late spring).

  2. Find a new book to read aloud to your children.  This new book will reignite you and your students love of literature.  Storytime enriches vocabulary, and provides a message/moral that leads to very interesting discussions.

  3. Record child/children reading a familiar book.  Add that book and the child’s taped reading to the library center.  Allow your new reader to become familiar with the library center, and watch what happens.

  4. Get active.  Have you had large beach balls in your classroom or outdoor area recently?  These low cost, soft, easy to catch balls will engage children in throwing, and passing.  We need to encourage more gross physical activity for the development of the body and brain.

  5. Propagate a plant.  Some plants that are easy to root and grow are: Airplane Plant, and some vines like Wandering Jew.  This experience will help children see how plants can be produced by placing leaves or cuttings in potting soil or water.  A clear bottle or cup allows the children to see the roots grow.

  6. Create a photography album. This album should include pictures of the children involved in activities within the classroom.  Be sure that all children are included in the album with their names, and that learning is occurring.   This becomes a very popular book for all to enjoy, and expand upon during the spring.

  7. Add a new center.  For example, a Fitness Center to get in shape for the New Year. You can find the vocabulary, design, props, and literacy connections, in my Complete Learning Center Book, Revised.  A web is also included to show how the learning is integrated into all areas of the curriculum.

  8. Include open-ended materials in all centers.  This encourages creative thinking and problem solving.  Young children are very creative, and simple materials can spark hundreds of ideas.  Some possibilities include:  scraps of shiny fabric, coffee filters, pieces of foil, electrical wire, brown wrapping paper, interesting color and designs of masking tape, a variety of papers, and tools for writing that are unusual.  I know this list will get your creative juices flowing as you identify many other open-ended possibilities!

  9. Creating rings, bracelets, and other finery for dress up.  Pipe cleaners can work as the foundation. Use beads, wire, stars, contact paper, etc.  These creations can also become decorations on clothes or shoes in home living.

  10. Add sticky notes to encourage writing. Young children are fascinated by sticky notes, and they love to write on them to leave messages.  These can be added to Home Living, Art Studio, Library Center or other appropriate places in your classroom.  Be sure to include magic markers, colored pencils, or chalk to inspire writers.

  11. Develop a group project to encourage cooperation and working together.  Put a large sheet of butcher paper on a wall (be sure to put a sheet of plastic underneath).  Choose a topic or theme that is interesting and appropriate for the season or your studies.  For example, “What do we do in winter?” “What do we see outdoors when it is cold?”   Children can add drawings or pictures of ideas that they want to share.  This group drawing can be added to over several weeks, with children including other thoughts over time.

  12. Dramatize a familiar/favorite story.  Creative dramatics is so appropriate with young children.  There is no memorized text, or exact words that are to be spoken.   The steps in the process are:   Read a story to the children that has a few characters and lots of action. (Two of my favorites are The Gingerbread Man and The Gigantic Turnip).  Reread the story another day and talk with the children about the characters and sequence of the action.  Later, read the story again to familiarize the children with the content.  Next, let the children chose the part they would like to play.   If they just want to watch, the audience is very important too.  Guide the actors through the story as they speak the words they want. Many times they want to do it again, or other children will want to try out the parts.  This is a non-pressure, relaxed and enjoyable literacy experience.  Try it, and you will be amazed at their abilities.

  13. Find a comfortable chair for you to sit in.  Add this special chair to the circle/community meeting area.  You deserve to have a place where you can sit comfortably.

  14. Compliment another teacher or staff member.  During this New Year, it is important to remember that not just children need encouragement, adults do too.  Take a moment to let another teacher know what great work they are doing, and be specific about what you saw and admired.   You both will feel better because of this compliment.


Have a wonderful 2014!