A Focus on Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health

September 2022
 Building a Caring Classroom Community
This newsletter focuses on sharing information on infant/early childhood mental health and
the importance of relationship-based approaches and supports that help infants and young children feel safe, supported, and valued by the adults around them. The newsletter, and the Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC) program, is made possible by a partnership between the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) and the Pennsylvania Key.
September marks Back to School season with many chances for new relationships and experiences. This time is also an opportunity to engage in self-reflection in terms of classroom practices.

In this month’s issue, we share resources on Building a Caring Classroom Community. Find valuable information to support building positive relationships between adults and children in the classroom setting.

We have also included activities to support a strong sense of community in each classroom.

The Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation team wishes each of you a successful, happy new school year! 
With the support of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) the Pennsylvania Key IECMH Consultation team was able to add a staff member to support School Age Child Care (SACC) programs participating in Keystone STARS.

While the model components and process are currently under development, the proposed focus of this support will include, but is not limited to:
  • General guidance on meaningful environments and developmentally appropriate practices
  • General Middle Childhood Social-Emotional Concerns
  • General Middle Childhood Behavioral or Developmental Concerns
  • Well-being of Teachers and Caregivers
  • Partnering with Families
  • Partnering with School Districts/Community Partners

SACC related social-emotional resources and professional development opportunities will also be created, and the consultant will participate in SACC related stakeholder groups on a regular basis, as identified.
Please stay tuned for more information about when SACC Mental Health Consultation will be available and the process to request support. It is anticipated, with just one SACC staff member servicing the entire state, the service will be primarily tele-consultation support.
The first step to creating a positive classroom environment starts with you. A classroom community consists of a space composed of children—who feel a sense of belonging—coming together with the common goal of learning. Feeling a sense of belonging is critical so that children feel connected to their classroom community, with you and their classmates.

  • Back to School: Why Creating Classroom Community is so Important: The classroom provides a unique environment for children to experience peer relationships and to create their own community of learning. A strong classroom community is one in which students feel empowered and valued, and one in which children will ultimately thrive.

  • Creating a Caring Classroom (video): Learn how you can create a caring classroom community. Discover ways to model and promote positive social behaviors in the classroom.
  • Creating a sense of place; Considering routine, ritual and belonging: Routines and activities to help children develop a sense of belonging in a child care program. The term sense of place reflects why a place is special and unique. It also reflects how attachments are fostered within the group and how each person develops a sense of belonging. 
  • Creating a Caring Classroom Community: Help early learners build healthy social and emotional skills with this special collection on promoting kindness, being just, and creating a caring classroom community! These activities, videos, tips, articles, and guides offer thoughtful ways to demonstrate and encourage kind and fair behavior in your classroom.
  • Four Elements of Connection: Eye contact, presence, touch and a playful setting are the four core components required to truly connect with others. Learn how to provide all four essential elements (and why) with this helpful guide.

  • Build a Sense of Belonging in the Early Childhood Classroom: Mr. Rogers addressed the following three important aspects of belonging that helped children feel like they belonged to a community of caring people and that they were an integral part of it: a place to go; something to do; and someone to help
  • Membership: Inclusion Basics: Use this range of resources to help you think about and plan for ways to promote membership in your classroom and foster belonging.
Tips, suggestions and tools to help the children in your classroom community build positive, trusting relationships with their peers.  
  • Helping Children Play and Learn Together: During the early childhood years, children learn to interact with one another. Researchers stress the importance of positive  peer relationships in childhood and later in life. Read about strategies to support positive peer interaction.

  • I Can Be a Super Friend: A social story to support children in understanding what good friendship skills are so that they use them naturally as they play and interact with their peers. Available in English and Spanish.

  • Strategy Cards and Posters: Strategy cards and posters for Peer Mediated Skills teaching 5 specific behaviors that support friendship skills.
  • All About Me: Ideal for families or caregivers to share important information with their child's teacher at the beginning of the school year. It's important to focus on what motivates your child, what they love, and what works best for them. This will give the teacher a great overall picture of how to best approach situations in the classroom.
  • Three Ways to Help Your Child Build Better Friendships: How can parents support their children’s friendships through different ages and stages? As children grow, so do their abilities to build friendships. Here’s how to guide your kids as they grow and make new friends along the way!

  • Four Elements of Connection: Eye contact, presence, touch and a playful setting are the four core components required to truly connect parents and adult caregivers with their children. Learn how to provide all four essential elements (and why) with this helpful guide.
IECMH Consultation helps adults strengthen their relationships with young children and build capacity to respond to children’s social-emotional needs. IECMHC can help reduce caregiver stress, as well as increase caregivers’ reflective practice skills.
IECMH Consultants are available by appointment to provide IECMHC Virtual Office Hours consultation via telephone or video conference. IECMHC Virtual Office Hours is a short-term, collaborative, problem-solving conversation to help you find next steps for: Child Social-Emotional Concerns | Child Behavioral or Developmental Concerns Emotional Well-being of Teachers and Caregivers | Partnering with Families.
Appointments are held on the first and third Fridays of the month, or other days/times by request. Get more info.
The Pennsylvania Key has streamlined the process for Keystone STARS programs to request Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC). Child care providers can request services by using the Request for Service Form (PDF). Completed forms can be submitted via email PAIECMH@pakeys.org or faxed to 717-213-3749.
Programs and families can contact the program leadership directly at PAIECMH@pakeys.org with questions or concerns.
Share your feedback! We'd like to hear what you think about infant early childhood mental health. Are there resources you'd like to see? Questions you have? Tell us! Send your feedback to PAIECMH@pakeys.org.