Category Archives: Infants and Toddlers

Foster an Appreciation for Books

appreciatingbooks

It has been proven that exposing children to books and reading to them at an early age can promote children’s language and literacy development. Love for books isn’t just about the words on the page—it’s about the physical objects too! Luckily, the love for books can be easy to foster from the time children are born solely by exposing them to books early on and on a continual basis. I often hear from educators that they are concerned that young children are rough on books. I see books kept out of reach of the children. An early childhood program is the perfect place to help children learn how to use and care for books. Yes, it is possible to teach the youngest of children to respect books. That isn’t to say that books won’t get ripped, chewed on and mishandled. In fact, this is a positive thing. These occurrences are teachable moments. The following are occurrences that can be turned into teachable moments and will support children in learning how to care for books.

Read, read, read!
Reading books should occur more often than just at group time. When children have access to books, they will bring books to teachers to be read. This can begin in an infant room by finding time to read with infants one on one. I have seen teachers read books while holding an infant who is taking a bottle or inviting children to sit in their lap to introduce a new book or an old favorite. As a toddler teacher, all I had to do was sit on the floor and children would bring books to me. I didn’t have to have a formal story time because we were reading throughout the whole day, including getting ready for nap time.

Reading to children often opens the door for modeling how to take care of books. Gentle reminders on putting books back on the shelf when finished reading may be necessary. Sometimes when books are left on the floor, children will stand on them. It can be appropriate to say, “I see you standing on a book. I am worried that will tear up the book. You can read the book or put it back on the shelf.”

Mouthing
Allowing infants and young toddlers to mouth objects is okay. Mouthing is important to their development. The mouth is the drive for life. When we are born our drive for survival is undeniable. Infants cry and search (known as rooting) for sustenance which satisfies their needs. This drive is so deep that it takes most children a long time to move past it. I would challenge that this need never goes away. Think about the joy of tasting your favorite flavors, chewing a cup of ice, or enjoying your favorite gum or candy. Do you prefer certain textures of foods over others such as crunchy vs. creamy?

One solution is to provide cloth and vinyl books. They can be mouthed with no damage and are easily washable. Board books are also sturdy and wipeable. Mouthing them will deteriorate them over time therefore it is okay to say, “I see you are putting the book in your mouth. You can put this toy in your mouth. (Offer an appropriate toy) or we can read the book.” Offer the child to sit in your lap and enjoy the book together.

Ripping pages/Misusing books
Children are natural explorers which explains why they are curious about their surroundings. They also do not know their own strength nor have any clue about what is “socially acceptable.” Adults can take note of this fact and decide how they react to children who are simply doing what comes natural to them. The act of exploring needs to be guided not dictated. In order to know how to respond to children’s curiosity, it is important to remember to think in terms of what the child is trying to accomplish. In my experience in providing the opportunity to explore books, I noticed that when books have the slightest tears they do not go unnoticed to children. Their initial instinct seems to be to peel back on the layers that are unraveling on the board book or bend the spine of the book back until it cracks. The first few times this happens they do not know what the consequence of peeling or bending will be, therefore they will test it out a few times to see if they get the same result.

Our response to exploration will also be tested, which means consistency is key.  A response that seemed to help children was to calmly point out what was happening to the book and that we wouldn’t be able to read the book if it was torn or broken. Remember to keep an even tone and do not overreact. A lot of damage that happens to books can be fixed. If damage occurs; include the child in helping fix the book. Clear packaging tape works wonders when it comes to repairing books.

Children of all ages should have a variety of books within reach throughout the day. If you need ideas on what types of books to have in your program, check out my previous post—and remember, many libraries have educator cards with perks that may include wear-and-tear forgiveness! Physical access to books is an important foundation of early language and literacy skills.

Keep It Authentic!

sandRecently, I was lucky enough to join my family for a seaside trip to South Carolina. After months of talking about the sandy beaches and salty ocean, my preschool-aged niece was excited to finally experience everything she had heard about with her own five senses! No matter how often we described the feeling of sand between our toes or the weightlessness of riding the waves in the Atlantic, it was difficult for her to make connections without actually experiencing it herself. All week, I could see these new experiences providing her with rich language, early science concepts, and filling her brain with background knowledge she will carry with her for years to come.

We know children learn best through hands-on activities. By providing opportunities that allow them to engage all of their senses, they are able to have meaningful experiences that help build connections to the real world. So how do we help those children who have yet to visit the beach experience these elements in authentic and meaningful ways? Bring it to the classroom, of course! Here are some awesome ways to bring seaside fun and learning into their everyday environment:

  • Sand can be an easy addition to any sensory table! You can find play sand in most toy or home improvement stores. Kinetic sand on table top trays can be a great alternative for classrooms without a sensory table. Add a variety of tools & buckets from a local dollar store, and even some water to experiment with. The children can create and build just like they are at the beach!
  • Know any friends or family heading to the beach? Ask them to bring back a bag full of shells! Adding real shells to your math or science learning area with some magnifying glasses and scales opens up an opportunity to explore math concepts and increase observation skills. Also, using descriptive words to talk about shell textures can help build rich language.
  • Did you know the largest Great White Shark recorded was 20 feet long? Most are only about 13 feet long, which is still pretty giant compared to the children in our classrooms! Using painters tape, create a 13 foot long outline of a shark on your classroom or hallway floor, allowing your students to see just how huge a shark would be if they encountered one in real life. Allow them to use a variety of classroom materials to explore measurement. They will love answering questions such as “How many Legos long is this shark?”
  • Set up some experimentation of salt water vs. fresh water. Children can do a little taste-testing, and play with the idea of “What sinks and what floats?” using different materials in the classroom. I love this salt water experiment.

When we bring in authentic materials, it helps children connect concepts and understand our learning themes in a tangible and meaningful way!

Exploring the Library for Your Classroom

The other day, a colleague asked me about books for his child. He knew that his son liked books that have flaps and he was looking to introduce his son to some new books to promote a love for reading. We happened to be at a library for a meeting and decided to walk over to the children’s section to look at board books, since his child is of toddler age. I had a sudden flashback of how I used to go to the library to pore over the board books for my toddler classroom. I loved being able to fill up my bookshelf with new books for children to explore. The following are some thoughts that I kept in mind when I was choosing library books for my classroom.

Library Rules. We all know how expensive books can be. Thankfully, I believe that libraries keep this in mind and make it easier for everyone to have access to books. Locally, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Midpointe Libraries have an educator card, which makes it more convenient for teachers to put library books within the reach of children. There are perks such as pre-ordering books and having them delivered to your program, automatic renewal, no late fees and wear and tear forgiveness.

Children’s Interests. One of the easiest ways to decide what books to choose is to think of what the children in your classroom like. What are their interests? What are they talking about or playing with the most? What have they experienced? Preschool and school-age children are more likely to verbalize their likes and interests. For children who are non-verbal this can be a challenge, yet there are clues that will help you out. I can remember when children would bring a toy from home to school and want to carry it around for most of the day. This was my clue as to what that child liked and was interested in. Freight Train, by Donald Crews or Chugga-chugga choo-choo, by Kevin Lewis; pictures by Daniel Kirk, were popular choices when children showed interest in trains. I once found a book with a handle attached that I brought into my classroom because there were a few children who had the tendency to carry around items like purses, bags and buckets. Following interests can intrigue children who would otherwise have no interest in books.

Repetitive and Predictable. There are types of books that tend to be more appealing to children. Books that are repetitive and predictable seem to lull children into wanting to hear them repeatedly. When children have access to books they will want their caregivers and teachers to read to them throughout the day. These opportunities expose children to the sounds and rules of language and literacy in an interesting way. The predictability of books support children’s cognitive development by supporting the ability to remember the events of the book. Examples of repetitive and predictable books include: Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin, Jr., pictures by Eric Carle; Jump, Frog, Jump! By Robert Kalan, pictures by Byron Barton; and The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood.

The Arts and Illustrations. Children’s books can expose children to the arts in a variety of ways. Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober put together a collection of board books that showcase classic artists’ work, such as Monet and Seurat. Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver created primer books that emphasize classic literature, including Huckleberry Finn and Wizard of Oz. The illustrations of children’s books can expose children to an assortment of art medium such as pencil, paint, watercolor, collage, and computer graphics. This exposure not only introduces children to the arts but could open up their minds to their own avenues for creativity and expression.

Read the book. Not all books are created equal. Some of them don’t make sense, others may be too long for children to sit through. It is extremely important for you to read the book before checking it out.

All in all, my goals for choosing library books were to offer the children in my classroom opportunities to have constant access to books and to foster their interests by integrating them into a literary form. Books can support attachment, learning and development and most importantly provide a chance for teachable moments.

Art vs. Crafts

Every parent likes to see something that is cute and well put together that “their child made” such as sun catchers or that cute hand-print frame that is sitting on their desk at work. During the summer, lots of programs have different projects, and parents want to see what they do. HOWEVER, the question lingers in one’s mind—how much of that project did the child actually make? Craft projects are fine every now and then, but is it really something that a young child understands? Process art is different than crafting—it’s about the journey a child takes to get to their end product. It is way more fun, hands on, and appropriate for a young child to do. With process art, a child is able to:

  1. Work fine motor muscles. Working with different types of tools/media they can build the hand muscles for better dexterity. This lays the foundation for cutting and writing. Examples of this could be setting out a hole punch and pieces of paper, using scissors to cut straws or clay.
  2. Enhance critical thinking skills. When a child is in the creative process, his/her mind is thinking out ways to make/create the subject at hand. Gathering information and hypothesizing how to create the artwork builds the mind for thinking out other scenarios children may face throughout everyday events. Instead of laying out specific supplies for the children to all come to the same end result, give lots of options: hole punches, stamps, stickers, beads, string, tongue depressors, pom poms, glue, scissors—the possibilities are endless!
  3. Express themselves. If you provide the materials, they will come! Allowing the child to experiment will result in something that has meaning for them. Sitting and asking questions about the creative process also helps the child develop the language and vocabulary for something that they may have never been able to talk about before. For example, something you may ask would be, “Why did you choose the felt to make the dog’s ears?” or “How can you attach the ears to the paper?” You can also help them express what they created by writing about it. This gives the families the story and process behind the masterpiece.

Art in an early childhood program is about more than just making something cute; it is creating the moments for a child to discover and learn. I said it before and I will say it again: let children have the time to play and try new things. After all, learning through play is how a child learns best!

Helping Children say Goodbye

saying-goodbye-for-the-dayI have never liked to say goodbye to those I care about. It felt better to say, “See you later,” or “Take care,” rather than “Goodbye.”  Saying these phrases had less finality. It helped me feel at ease as I separated from my family and friends. Realizing how uncomfortable I felt saying goodbye to my loved ones helped me to understand the importance of supporting children as they learned how to cope with separating from their family for the day.

It is important that adults offer this support so that children can understand why they separate from their family and have the opportunity to learn about the emotions they’re feeling.  These feelings do not have to be avoided—they need to be supported! Here are a few ways to support children and their families as they say, “See you later.”

Create a Calm, Inviting Environment

Setting a mood in the morning can be a beneficial way of supporting children when they are dropped off. If the size of the classroom permits, provide a small couch or love seat for children to sit on with their families during a drop off routine (see below). Make sure children know where their personal items belong. When children have a space of their own in a classroom, it can add to the sense of belonging. Remember that if children are not ready to take off their coat or jacket right away, it is okay. They may need to hold on to an item from home to help them feel safe. It is also helpful to encourage families to bring in comfort items such as a blanket, a stuffed animal or photo book from home to help keep a connection between home and school.

Say Hello and Make Yourself Available

Greet every child and family member that walks through the classroom door. Make sure to use names; having a cheat sheet can be helpful in remembering everyone’s name. It is important for everyone to feel comfortable when they enter a classroom. When children see their teacher conversing with their family members, it helps to build the trust that is needed between teacher and child.

It can be helpful to observe and reflect on the kind of support the child and family needs when a child is having a hard time separating from their family. Some children feel supported when their parent hands them off to their teacher. Others may just need some extra time with their parent, so encouraging them to create a drop off routine can be helpful (see below). Based on that routine, the teacher my need to remind children and their family what the routine is or to make sure all elements for that routine are available. It is best to refrain from being too forceful for the family to separate. This can be a sensitive and challenging part of the day for all involved. Sometimes a simple, “Let me know when you are ready to leave and I will help,” can be all that is needed. The important thing is to be available.

Encourage a Drop Off Routine

Children thrive on consistency. Drop off routines can be successful in establishing smooth and consistent separation. Encourage families to think about what works best for them. Are they typically in a hurry or do they have flexibility to ease a child into the classroom?  Encourage families to start off by helping children to put their items in their cubby and then washing their hands. A parent may be able to engage in some play with their child for a few minutes before leaving. Offer breakfast throughout the morning and make it a choice for children. Another routine that works well is for the family member to sit and read a book or two with their child before separating for the day. It may also be important for the adult to pick the number of books and stick to that number. This may be something that the teacher can help reinforce.

Offer Interesting Choices

Having several popular activities available for children to choose from can be helpful when separating for the day. Knowing children’s typical schedules and what their interests are can be helpful for children as they separate from their family. I had success opening the sensory table in the early morning. Sensory play can be a magnet for young children which can help children be ready to explore the classroom because it is interesting and fun, therefore saying goodbye may not feel so pressing and hard.

All in all, the most important thing is to help children feel comfortable while they are at your program. It can take some time to find out exactly what works for each child. No matter how uncomfortable separations may feel, they are important. Make sure that children have the opportunity to say “Goodbye, see you later” or “After while, crocodile!”

What do Letters Mean to Infants and Toddlers?

adult-and-toddler-with-bookWhat do letters mean to infants and toddlers? When is an appropriate time to begin learning what letters are and how to write them? Are there things that children need to understand and know first? Language and literacy are important for school readiness and success. It is equally important to approach language and literacy holistically. It is not enough to teach children their ABCs and how to write them. Here are a few developmentally appropriate ways to support language and literacy learning with infants and toddlers.

Read books and sing songs throughout the day.
Set up a library and baskets of books throughout the classroom for spontaneity. Children like to read the same books over and over. They like to carry them around and enjoy the opportunity to sit in an adult’s lap to read. Hearing and listening to stories helps children to label pictures, answer questions such as, “What’s that?” and can help children learn about feelings and emotions. Choosing books carefully and with individual children in mind can help children make connections to things that they have experienced and relate to in real life.

Invest time in learning new fingerplays and songs. Be silly and have fun making up your own songs. Singing to children to help them through transitions can be more successful than trying to get children to stand in a line and “catch a bubble.” Reading and singing with children sets the stage for helping them learn that language and the written word has a function. This can also be done through environmental print.

Talk with children!
It is important that teachers do more than talk at children and give them directions on what to do or where to go. Speak to children like you would to your peers. There is no need to ”oversimplify your language or use baby talk.” (Greenman, Stonehouse & Schweikert, Primtimes) Commentate what you see children doing such as, “You rolled the red car across the floor.” Explain to children what you are doing. “I am going to pick you up and put you on the changing table.” Be sure to use descriptive words.Have a conversation! Cooing babies, babbling toddlers and curious preschoolers all have something to say and enjoy the back and forth interaction that conversations provide. Playing games like peek-a-boo with young children is a great way to begin practicing conversations.

Create a print rich environment.
Children are concrete thinkers and often need pictures to go with labels to support the idea that letters create words and words stand for people, places and/or things. Using pictures is a great place to start. For any age group, providing pictures of children’s families and adding print to the pictures by making posters or books is a great way for children to see their name and those they care about in print. Adding a picture with a label of the child’s name to their cubby is a great way to help children begin to recognize their name. Shelves can be labeled with words and pictures as well. Other types of environmental print can include using documentation panels that use pictures of children at work and adding short descriptions to the panel to use as conversation starters or by adding grocery ads to a grocery store themed dramatic play area.

Have opportunities to write available.
Once a child has the ability to hold a writing utensil (and it doesn’t have to be using a pincer grip) they should be given the opportunity to scribble. Again there are many ways to offer children this other than just crayons and paper. One example can be magnetic writing boards or dry erase boards and markers. Offering play dough to squeeze can help children build their fine motor skills for future writing. By the time children are in preschool, a writing center can be available for children to utilize along with putting pencils and paper in various areas of the room to make things such as make road signs in the block area or record findings children make while out on the playground.

These are just several ways that language and literacy can be supported from the beginning of a child’s time in an early care and education program.

Motivation: Where Does It Come From?

sharingAt the beginning of my early care and education career, I figured out that children like to be praised. Whenever I wanted children to follow along or cooperate, I would praise them. After prompting children to clean up, I would purposefully and somewhat loudly say things like, “I like the way Sarah is cleaning up.” I noticed that a majority of the children, beginning around 24-30 months of age would do what Sarah was doing because they wanted the same recognition.  This made the day much easier, which in this field can make life easier.

There is nothing wrong with easy, right? What if I said in this instance it could be?

The tactic that I had been using was a form of praise and some would say manipulation. The reason the children were cooperating was because they were getting positive feedback from me and they knew that they were making me happy. Although the children were cooperating and “doing the right thing,” they were learning to do the right thing because it made me happy. I wasn’t teaching them that when we are finished with something we clean it up. I failed to guide them in learning what the expectations were about cleaning up. The children were exhibiting extrinsic motivation, which is when there is an external reward at stake, such as a sticker for good behavior or a positive compliment from a teacher.  Praise, like what I was using, tends to motivate children extrinsically. They may want to do something to win or to be the best at something. This can create anxiety in children because they may feel that they are not living up to the expectations of their teacher which in turn can affect their self-esteem and confidence.

Over time I learned how to use encouragement rather than praise to support children’s intrinsic motivation, which stems from interest and enjoyment. When it was time to clean up, I would make sure that children knew the time was approaching so that they would be mentally prepared for an upcoming transition. I would then sing a clean up song that would prompt the children to start cleaning up. I would model cleaning up and as I saw children beginning to do the same say things like, “Thank you, Sarah. You heard the clean up song and know that it is time to clean up” or “D.J., thank you for your hard work. It is very helpful when everybody cleans up.” I was intentional about making sure what I said was said only to the child it was intended for. I also tried to make cleaning up into a game to make it more enjoyable. I would prompt children to find toys on the floor by singing, “Who can find the blue block on the floor, on the floor? Who can find the blue block on the floor? Put it away, don’t delay. Who can find the blue block on the floor?”

All in all, I found that children began to learn about cleaning up at their own pace and/or developmental level.  Children were just as motivated to clean up for the sake of cleaning up or because they knew that something new was coming next. They learned how to work as team and no one was ever singled out if they didn’t participate. There was a sense of community and everyone felt that they were an important part of that community.