Tag Archives: child development

Be where the children are!


Children learn a lot through interacting with each other—and with their teachers!

I was recently thinking about my time as an Early Childhood Education student. I chuckled remembering my practicum in an infant room. I thought I might share some reflections on these first experiences.

I had a lot of experience in a preschool room, but really, close to zero experience in an infant room. As a student teacher, I did not directly set up the materials in the room, but I did have a role in using the materials in the room to encourage and facilitate the infants in interactions and experiences that to support their emotional, social and motor development.

Some of the older infants liked to get on top of the mats and pretend they were on stage and clap their hands. I interacted with them when they were doing this by singing along and clapping my hands with them. One of the most popular materials in the room was a container that played music every time a ball was dropped down one of the holes. When the children were playing with this toy I would try to encourage development such as vocabulary by saying what I saw them doing. I remember really struggling to come up with questions or statements that would encourage a higher level of thought. That was a skill that definitely came easier with time and experience.

Another favorite area of the room was for building perceptual skills. There was a shelf with colorful blocks on it, a mat and a mirror. The blocks were soft so they didn’t hurt if a child dropped one on them or hit another child with it. When an infant was in the area by the blocks, I loved to go over and try to model how to stack them. I set one on top of another and then would take it back off. I really enjoyed it when an infant tried to copy what I did.

I think one of the most important things I learned during my time in the infant room, was that no matter where the children were in the room, it was important to go there and be with them. I just got down on the floor and used every opportunity as a time for meaningful interactions. The text book I used during that student teaching experience was Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers, by Janet Gonzalez-Mena and Dianne Widmeyer Eyer and it included a list of ten principals for care giving (Which can be applied in working with all age groups). They are:

  1. Involve infants and toddlers in things that interest them.
  2. Invest quality time.
  3. Learn each child’s unique ways of communicating and teach them yours.
  4. Invest time and energy to build a total person.
  5. Respect infants and toddlers as worthy people.
  6. Be honest about your feelings.
  7. Model the behavior you want to teach.
  8. Recognize problems as learning opportunities and let (infants and toddlers) try to solve their own.
  9. Build security by teaching trust.
  10. Be concerned with the quality of development in each stage.

The magic of learning about emotions

Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling.

Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling.

Last month I wrote about steps to end temper tantrums. In step number five, I mention that “When children know they are in a safe, loving environment, they will learn how to calm down. They will know you will be there for them. This is when the real magic will happen.” What do you think that real magic is? Is it enough for a child to know what emotion he or she is feeling? What do children do with the knowledge that they were angry or frustrated? How do we help them understand why that feeling occurred in the first place? The why behind the feeling is how we help children learn what they can do the next time a child might take their toy or react to a situation calmly and say, “I don’t want to join group time. I want to keep building with blocks.” Whether it’s a choice for that child to continue building or not, all children should feel safe and capable enough to express themselves through words.

As children learn about their emotions and the “why” behind them, they are more likely to gain confidence in their ability to express their feelings. They can learn how to negotiate and work with their peers to solve problems. They can also learn to know that if they are frustrated they can ask for help. If they are angry they will have the skills to use words or stomp their feet rather than hit or kick another person.

This doesn’t happen overnight. Children need A LOT of practice along with consistency, empathy and compassion from adults as they learn these new skills. This process starts from the earliest days of life. Teachers have to meet children where they are developmentally and support what they may need in that moment. Teachers can then scaffold their learning and help them to the next step in their social/emotional development. It is also important to remember that children need practice from situation to situation. Just because a child has learned how to say, “Give my toy back,” in the dramatic play area doesn’t mean they will know what to do or say if a child knocks over their block structure.

The true magic to supporting and helping children to calm down and learn about their feelings and emotions also includes helping them learn what to do with those feelings as they happen. Children have the right to be able to understand why they are feeling they way they are feeling. This support will help children learn how to become socially successful and emotionally secure.

Southwest Ohio ECE providers, do you need support in learning how to teach children about their emotions? Check out these upcoming 4C for Children workshops:

Meeting an infant’s needs in a child care setting

During a coaching visit, I overheard an adult say as she picked up an infant, “I suppose you need to be spoiled today.” The caregiver had already fed and diapered the infant and every time she tried to put him down he would begin to fuss. What was he trying to tell her? He wanted to be held. Wanting to be held is highly associated with spoiling a baby, but this not the case. Being held is an important tool to help support and meet the needs of babies.

How does a child care provider learn how to mee the needs of an infant in their care?

How does a child care provider learn how to meet the needs of an infant in their care?

Love, attention, and interaction from parents and caregivers helps an infant develop a sense of self. When an infant is born, parents become attune with their baby and form an attachment. They develop a sense of what different cries mean and what their baby is trying to communicate. When a baby enters a group care setting, it is then up to the caregiver to learn what they can about the baby so they can in turn meet those needs. For example, this might include figuring out that a certain cry means he wants to be held.

Child care providers are part of the influences in an infants’ life. You are an important link in helping infants learn how to feel comfortable exploring their world. As you interact and form an attachment with an infant, they are learning! The give and take of coos, babbles, and the mimicking of facial expressions are early tools that teach infants about emotions such as happy, silly, and sad.

Consistency is the key when it comes to forming strong attachments and for infants to feel secure. There should be consistency in the way a child receives care, along with flexible daily schedules, primary caregiving, and appropriate expectations. They should be receiving the message that they are valuable and worthy of being in this world. As infants in your care grow into toddlers, their emotional development will be supported and they will learn to identify and express their feelings, develop self-awareness and self-regulation. They will be able to develop well socially as they learn about and relate to others around them. They will form empathy and learn how to solve conflicts and interact with peers and adults.

Infants are born ready to learn and become active explorers as they become mobile. In order for this to happen, they need to feel safe and secure in their environment. They also need for parents and caregivers to interact and engage with them. All of these things prime infants to learn about their spirit and help them to develop their sense of self as they grow. How can responding to the needs of an infant in this intentional way be spoiling a child?

Science with infants and toddlers? You’re doing it already!

We often encourage children to be scientists. We ask open-ended questions to encourage the children to hypothesize. We ask children to predict outcomes and graph responses. But some teachers struggle with science, thinking of their own experiences dissecting worms or experimenting with magnets. But science is everywhere! And it’s appropriate for every age group, even infants and toddlers.

Science with infants and toddlers is easier than you think! And chances are, you're doing it already.

I get super excited when thinking about science in early childhood. Physics and chemistry aren’t just topics for high school. With infants and toddlers, physics is all about the basics: how can I make the ball move? Can I roll it with my hands?  If I put this block at an angle, will the car roll down? I want to get on the slide. How do I move the other child to make room for me?

And we’re doing chemistry with infants and toddlers every day. If physics is how to make something move, chemistry is about how to make something change. When working with play dough, how can I make it flat? When feeding myself food, what happens when I mix the mashed potatoes with the applesauce?

Science is more than dissection and magnets. It can be as simple as rolling a ball or as complex as a cooking experiment. It can also be about exploring what is unfamiliar. Once when I was observing in a classroom, a child came over to me and started touching my arms, face and hair. Soon, more children came over. The teachers looked a little nervous but I assured them it was okay for the children to explore. Because I looked different than the teachers the children saw every day, they were curious. This is science. Even though the children were not verbalizing their thoughts, I can imagine they were hypothesizing what my hair felt like. They may have been comparing the feeling to past experiences. They may have been thinking this does not feel like my teacher’s hair.

By allowing children to explore we are encouraging children to think beyond their current knowledge. Simply by rolling a ball, exploring new foods (or new people!), we are inspiring scientific thinking that will help them their whole life.

– Christine

Making Children Happy: At What Cost?

As a mother and a frequent observer in child care programs, I’ve noticed a trend in teaching as well as parenting: we seem to be focused on making our kids HAPPY. Of course I believe this is important (who doesn’t?), but I wonder what we are teaching children and what the consequences of our focus might be. Wanting children to be happy all of the time can lead to missed opportunities for growth and learning.

At the grocery store recently, I overheard a mother trying to keep her two children well behaved as she moved up and down the aisles. They were begging for the little cheap toys that hang from the shelving units. She said that they weren’t there for toys and they didn’t have the extra money for them, but the children’s pleas became more intense and louder. In the end the mom ended up letting her children pick a toy for some peace and quiet.

There are other ways to keep children occupied during situations like this one. What about having helpers to pull things off the shelf and put them in the cart, or marking items off of a list? Children are getting something more substantial than a toy out of involvement like this. They get to have fun with their parent and feel that they are contributing toward getting the job done! We have similar opportunities in child care programs, and know all too well how impossible it can be to keep an entire classroom of children 100 percent happy unless we’re engaging with them in meaningful ways.

When we “give in” we run the risk of teaching children that if they act out enough they will end up getting what they want in the end. This won’t lead to anything more than temporary happiness, and doesn’t prepare children very well for the reality of school or work. Wouldn’t it be great if all your boss wanted to do was make you happy? While that’s part of the deal, we all have responsibilities and those often come first.

Sometimes it can hurt our hearts to be the one to say “no.” But helping children to understand that there are boundaries and they won’t always get what they want are important ones for parents and teachers to impart.

Children See, Children Do

Children are watching you and what they see is what they do. This was made all the more clear to me after watching this commercial from an Australian campaign called Child Friendly. I’ll warn you, it’s hard to watch, but has a powerful message for anyone who has young children in their lives.

Many of the adults in the commercial are stressed, and responding to stressful situations in a manner we would never think is appropriate for a child care setting. But let’s face it, sometimes caring for young children can be very stressful! I know there are many times when it’s hard to remain calm with an infant who won’t stop crying, but remember that children are always watching. Have a plan so you have some relief if you’re feeling stressed, like asking your director or another teacher to swap places with you even if it’s just for a few minutes.

There are some situations in the commercial that you wouldn’t find in a child care program. Even the scenes we wouldn’t think to find in a child care center, however, like a child care provider smoking in the presence of a child, are still important to consider. Have you ever taken your smoke break in plain sight of the children you care for? What kinds of messages are we sending when we make choices we would consider “bad” for children where they can witness them?

Try to model positive behaviors when you can. Show children how to be a caring person, and how to take care of themselves, each other and their environment. If you make a mistake, try to model attitudes and positive ways to approach problems. For example, “I wonder why that didn’t work?” Use feeling words to label children’s emotions, but more importantly, model empathy. If a child is sad, acknowledge the child’s feelings and offer a hug or ask what you can do to help.

I know we all make mistakes. I have been in the classroom and raised my voice when what I should have done was to walk over and engage that child. I know there have been times, too, when it was obvious from my voice that I was frustrated. Even the very best child care providers make mistakes, every day. But the very best child care providers also learn from their mistakes. That learning process is something that children can observe and learn from, as well. It is up to the child care provider to create a caring environment and model developmentally appropriate behavior. Remember that everything you do with children, not just the curriculum you implement or the activities you plan, matters.

Putting on the Brakes

You’re driving on the interstate, keeping up with traffic, when you see a police officer with a radar gun aimed right at your car. Does your right foot automatically go to the brake? Do you nervously look in the rearview mirror to see if the police car pulled out onto the interstate? Now imagine that the interstate is a classroom, and the teacher is the police officer. Doesn’t it feel some days that you’re “keeping the peace” rather than facilitating learning?

Sometimes a police officer can cause more trouble than they prevent.  When you see the officer with the radar gun on the interstate, you might slam on your brakes, no matter your speed. The same goes for other drivers. You get nervous when you see the police car! Teachers can sometimes have the same effect on children.

“I will give this block to you but don’t throw it.” “I’ll get out the markers, but don’t draw on yourself.” “We can go outside, but I do not want to see you climb up the slide!” Sometimes we give children so many rules to follow that it’s difficult for them to know what to do to be successful. Walking feet, gentle touches, don’t throw. Can we keep children safe and still allow them to be creative with their choices, decisions and activities?

I often challenge teachers to sit back and observe. Watch what the children are doing before jumping in. When a toddler in your classroom wants to touch an infant, wait. Maybe they will stroke their cheek, or hold their hand. If the toddler starts to pull the infant’s lips, then intercede and encourage the toddler to use gentle touches. When you talk to children, tell them what they can do, not always what they shouldn’t do. When you’re going outside, mention the weather, talk about the fresh air, show excitement for being able to run. As the children are playing with the blocks, talk to them about what they are constructing, not about throwing blocks. Challenging behaviors are going to surface, but wait and see what the children are doing before assuming the worst! Set up opportunities for children to be successful, and you can learn together when it’s the best time to put on the brakes.