A Dickens of a Dilemma


I had a different blog in mind for this week, but a talk I attended recently by a local city councilman gave me some inspiration today.

Most of us are familiar with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Whether your favorite version features Mickey, Bill Murray, Reginald Owen, the Muppets, or some other, the timeless theme remains the same. The moral to the story resonates with the human desire to embrace life and those around us before it’s too late.

Another theme in A Christmas Carol is to recognize the three phases of our lives as shaping who we are and who will become.

Whether you are an early childhood educator, a parent, or just a member of the community, I encourage you to reflect on your past, present, and future.

Past: I’ve had a big learning curve as a leader in Early Childhood Education.  Even in 2014, I did not consider myself to be a leader.  I thought of myself as a business owner, a boss, and a professional, but being a leader is different.  Once I started putting myself in the context of leader, and having that mindset guide every decision, is when I truly started having the biggest impact on students, staff, and my community.  Encouraging, mentoring, and collaborating with others is what makes the world a better place, and makes you a better person.

Present: I have a problem with ALWAYS focusing on tomorrow.  I fixate on future plans, longevity, and to do lists which are never “to-done.”  An important part of ensuring the future you want to bring to fruition is not forgetting to cherish all that this moment has to offer.  To be a leader in anything you have to connect with and value those around you.  I have to continue to plant seeds every day, while looking to the sky to plan for tomorrow.

Future: I mentioned I am future focused. This one is an issue for me- being too forward thinking.  Others may be paralyzed by their past.  Some may be so caught up in today that they don’t think about their own possibilities.  And there are more like me who concentrate so much on the future that they may not fully appreciate their past or experience their present.

I think our future is the most difficult reality for us to navigate, and we need to treat it with care.  We can’t fear the future because of past failures or mistakes.  We can’t forget the future because we are running the race of today, just to have twenty years go by before we know it. We must avoid focusing only on our future so we don’t neglect or distance ourselves from the very important people around us.

If A Christmas Carol taught us anything, it is that change can only come from within each of us.  We can be made aware of our lives, but ultimately it is our choice how we live.  Our past can embitter us or empower us.  Our present can energize us or exhaust us. Our future can inspire us or consume us.

Thank you as always for reading Early Education Plantation.

Comment. Connect. Cultivate Change.

7 Steps to More Gratitude


Originally published November 2015, Women’s Network of Rapid City Newsletter, Jessica Castleberry

I love the concept of gratitude.  In my most challenging times I used to write the word “gratitude” on my wrist for the constant reminder. In more progressive times I have a bracelet that has that powerful word inscribed on it.

I would love to have a more practical application of gratitude in my life, and here are the steps I am taking to make gratitude part of my attitude:
Change the “if and then.”

I am guilty of living with an “if and then” philosophy. If I can just accomplish ________, then I will be __________. If I can graduate from college, then I can feel fulfilled in a new career. If I can become financially stable then I won’t be as stressed out. If I can expand my business then I can take more time to enjoy my loved ones. Though not everyone suffers from “if and then,” everyone knows someone who does. If and then can be a valuable tool, driving success and determination. If and then can also undermine our happiness and overall well-being. It places our contentment and health in an ambiguous future place that we can’t access in the present. Life becomes a long to do list that is never completed, and we can lose ourselves along the way. I am an “if and then” person, and I have found that reaching the “then,” is never enough. To remedy this discontent, I have been trying a new take on if and then. If I feel grateful for everything I have right now, then I will feel happier NOW. If I can consistently unplug at 5:30 pm, then I will feel more rested, and have more connected quality time with my family, AND be more prepared to get back to work the next day. If I can prioritize my time, then I will feel more balanced and less overwhelmed. Altering if and then has to do with taking responsibility for your life right now, and not expecting to be happy once a magical “if and then” can be met.

Don’t suffer from heritage amnesia.

Don’t forget the ancestors who toiled and loved you so that your life would be better. My bad days are put into perspective when I think about my family escaping execution for their Jewish heritage in Russia by hiding in a hay wagon in 1918 to get to the docks to come to America. Suddenly extra paperwork and stressful deadlines don’t seem so bad.

Thank your nonbelievers.

Every single person you have encountered taught you something about yourself. Whether it was proving that you have what it takes, or taking criticism into account and improving, every person who said you couldn’t achieve either pushed you harder or helped you alter for a better course.

Be grateful for your mistakes.

Think back on errors that you made, and how much you learned from them. We hate to hear that we will learn from our mistakes as teens and young adults, but I can guarantee I am a much more practical human at 33 than I was at 23. I find comfort in thinking, “Imagine how smart I’ll be at 43!”

Remember love keeps lifting you higher.

Whether it is a manager, or a teacher, or a family member, think about who helped you be where you are today. One of the best ways we can invite more gratitude into our lives right now is to focus on helping others. You will be surprised by how much you receive when you focus on giving.

Time keeps ticking away.

Life is short. Too short to wait for happiness and success and fulfillment. Period.

Take time to celebrate.

When you accomplish a goal, don’t forget to take a little time to celebrate it along the way. Better yet, celebrate with those who helped you get there!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I am grateful for YOU taking the time to read these posts.  It has been a great year, and I can’t wait to see what December and the new year bring!

The Needs and Concerns of the Prescholar


First I would like to announce the winner of our giveaway! Across Linkedin, Facebook, and our site, Wendy Conrad has been selected!  Wendy will receive the book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell. I am so glad that Wendy finds value in the blog as a conversational tool for her students!


I have traveled to Mexico before and always make it a point to visit a prescholar.

The prescholar I visit has changed every year depending upon various factors. In 2015 the prescholar I visited the year before had been destroyed by a hurricane, and the administrator told me it had put a tremendous strain on the other local facilities to try to help the displaced children.

Sometimes I am able to contact the administrators before I go, and other times I have hopped into a cab and said, “Take me to a preschool!”

Our preschool collects items over the year for me to deliver. We ask students what they would like for preschoolers from Mexico to know about them. Our care packages include a variety of items,  information about our area, and stuffed toys that represent local animals. We order extra bilingual books from Scholastic during the year and have even taken Indian fry bread mix for them to sample.

The streets of downtown Cabo San Lucas are busy and bright, with a light dusting of powdery dirt.  The tour companies are working hard, welcoming you from their kiosks and offering tours to El Arco or zip lines. The hosts and hostesses beckon for you to come to their restaurant, and everyone has “the best tacos” in town.

The palm trees are tall, the streets are alive with sound, and the air is a humid 89 degrees.

Further in are the blocks and blocks of storage unit shops, each metal door representing a “small business owner.” From  9:00 am to 9:30 pm these doors will be open with a kaleidoscope rainbow of colors. The shopkeepers  will be calling to tourists, “The price is right, senorita!” and “Almost free for you today!” I wonder where they live, if their families have one of the small haciendas further in, or how many of them live in shanties like chicken coops in the arroyos. I wonder if they had to ride the public bus to work, how long their trip was, and where their children are.

There are signs that read “No exploitacion infantils” which go into further detail to caution you from buying things from children. Purchasing items from children on the street perpetuates pulling children from school to help support the family. A little boy of about eight approaches me to sell me shells and I say in what I hope was a kind but firm way, “No gracias, you should be in school.”

Closer now to real life and further from the malls, marina, and tourist wonderlands, I am closer to Mexico. There are three prescholars clustered at an intersection, the fourth corner occupied by a hollowed out cement building surrounded by broken glass. Abandoned by all assumptions of the Americanos zipping by in taxis, but if you look closely, people live there.

The prescholar I choose is small and plain surrounded by a tall metal fence. I ring the bell and wait.

“Buenos Dias!”  Chirps a slight Mexican woman with a big smile. I hand her my note courtesy of Google translator explaining in Spanish that I am a preschool owner from South Dakota, and that if it is all right I would like to come inside and see their school and give them a few gifts.

She reads over my letter. The look on her face can only be described as someone who is fluent in Spanish trying to read Chinese. Thanks a lot Google. She smiles and leaves to get their administrator.

I am greeted next by Victoria. By the end of our conversation and the tour of the school, I know we are cut from the same cloth of dedication to early childhood education. While we might be “professionalism twins,” and “leadership sisters,” you can still tell us apart, as I am about twelve inches taller than her, and she is just a little tanner than me.

I could tell another story about their school. A large fenced in courtyard with AstroTurf was covered by green canopies to block out the Baja desert sun. All of the children were in white polo shirts with either shorts or skirts in navy blue. What impacted me most was the even split of male to female teachers, and of course the friendly, inquisitive children.

Victoria graciously received the gifts from our preschool. She then looked at me frankly and said, “Why us?” I said, “Because I knew fate would lead me where I was supposed to go.” Her eyes filled with tears and she replied, “Muchas gracias.”

While random acts of kindness in foreign countries are nice, you don’t have to travel abroad to help high risk communities with early childhood education. You can donate to organizations such  as the NAEYC. There is also plenty of need in our own communities.  Centers that offer extended hours, weekend care, infant care, and care for children with mild illnesses are huge needs not only in Rapid City, but South Dakota as well and across the Midwest. Lack of flexible, quality care and education affects children and their families.  In our community we have young parents who can’t complete general education diplomas, attend evening classes for advanced degrees, some aren’t even able to make it to work due to limited hours of child care availability.  You can also help by donating to centers in your community who have needs. An example of this is Dear One’s Daycare Center in Rapid City that serves families who are homeless.  They are always looking for donated items. Early childhood educators can also partner with organizations like Starting Strong Rapid City to help provide full day care for low income families.

What are the needs and concerns of the prescholar? They are not so different from our own. They want health and safety for their students. They want a community who understands and supports the importance of early childhood education. They want to help their student’s families by giving their children a fun place to play and learn when they have to be apart.

Gratitude Giveaway


It is November, and a time when those of us in the US turn to thoughts of gratitude and thankfulness!  To show my gratitude to YOU for reading Early Education Plantation,  we are doing another giveaway!

Like, comment, share, or follow to be entered to win the book The 21 Laws of Leadership by John C Maxwell.

John C. Maxwell offers lively stories about the foibles and successes of Lee Iacocca, Abraham Lincoln, Princess Diana, and Elizabeth Dole in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Readers can expect a well-crafted discussion that emphasizes the core attitudes and visions of leadership.

Don’t worry if you live outside of the area, we will be happy to ship it to you!

The winner will be announced in the blog post on 11/15!

Thanks for reading!


Escaping the Crab Bucket


Rob Bell, an author, former pastor, and frequent public speaker has a theory that he refers to as the “crab bucket.”  Rob utilizes the “crab bucket” in the family model, and describes how in some families, nobody’s happy unless everyone stays in their place.

Some families are just like a big crab bucket—whenever one of the crabs tries to climb out and escape, the other crabs will grab hold of him and pull him back down.  They feel threatened by the singular person’s desire to change or leave.

I’ve seen and experienced a few crab buckets.  I think the crab bucket theory can apply to many of our relationships with other people.  Friends, coworkers, other people in our industry, and the community at large can serve as a crab bucket.

Crab bucket: Cindy, Paula, and Karen work together in a center.  At this center, child care providers are allowed to dress as they wish.  Karen takes a course on professionalism, and starts wearing slacks and blouses to work.  Cindy and Paula criticize Karen behind her back for being “stuck up” and thinking she is better than everyone else. Karen hears this and goes back to wearing sweatpants and old t-shirts.

Crab bucket: Kara has been a private music teacher for six years when she is hired at a preschool.  She makes a recommendation to the director for fun and educational ways to bring more music into the classroom.  The director informs her that the “music time” that is programmed into the IPod is sufficient for the classroom and that no other additions should be made.

Crab bucket: Jenny is a center director.  She wants to improve communication between early childhood educators and the school district.  She tries to gather local directors to form an alliance.  She sends out invitations to the first meeting and no one attends. When she reaches out to another director she is told, “We don’t need to waste time talking to the school district.  We need to focus on watching kids and meeting our ratios.”

Crab bucket: Samantha began working in early childhood education simply because she needed a job.  What Samantha didn’t know was how she had a natural talent for teaching and how much she would love it.  Samantha’s mother decided that early childhood education was not a real profession with a future for her daughter. Samantha’s mother coerces, guilts, and finally threatens her daughter until she goes to work as a receptionist.

Why so crabby?

The biggest reason that crab buckets are formed is fear. Many people do not like change.  Being cautious of new situations can be a valuable trait, but pushing that to the point of being afraid is unhealthy. Some people may try to keep others down because they feel threatened or are jealous.  As a crab on the way out, it is important to determine the motives of someone who is trying to hold you back and whether or not they have your best interest at heart.

How do we climb out?

It can be very difficult to transition when those around you are not supportive. You have to make strong choices about what will ultimately be best for you. It is also important to build a strong network of like-minded people around you.  This will help provide moral support for whatever changes you are trying to make and they can provide you with good counsel as you move forward. It requires a lot of bravery to stand up for what you believe in.  Sometimes you have to make selfish choices to make the right decision.

We have to try to understand the crabs stuck in the bucket.  Hopefully you can serve as a good example and maybe you can help them out of the bucket too!
For more about the Crab Bucket, read Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on it by following this link: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/elizabeth-gilbert-what-to-do-when-your-family-is-holding-you-back