Tag Archives: infants

Promoting Social and Emotional Development

I had the opportunity to attend Lumenocity at Washington Park, and the show was absolutely amazing. The music, the lights, the food trucks. It was estimated that there were 15,000 people in attendance, so as you might imagine, we were elbow to elbow. This lead to some tense situations, and I was prompted to wonder about the early experiences of some of the adults in the audience.

Children who are given the opportunity practice crucial life skills like critical thinking and problem solving grow up to be more functional adults.

Right before the show started a fight almost broke out because someone put a chair on another person’s blanket. The person in the chair was refusing to move.  Another person approached and threatened to “help” the person out of the chair.  The situation was resolved by yet another person mediating and finding the person in the chair another space.

I couldn’t help but wonder about everyone involved and their experiences with confrontation and problem-solving. I came to the conclusion that with quality early childhood experiences, this situation may not have happened. Had these adults been given the opportunity as young child to practice critical thinking and problem-solving?  Were they taught as young children how to negotiate with others?  Were they given opportunities to function successfully in a group setting?  Were they taught how to reflect on another person’s perspective?  Were they encouraged to use words instead of bodies to get their needs met?

I think it’s important for teachers of young children to have the adult the child will become in mind.  We can’t control everything, but we can provide opportunities for children to practice life skills. How? Let’s go through some scenarios.

Sophie takes a rattle from Max. The teacher can wait to see if Max is upset about the situation before intervening. If Max wants the rattle he may cry. The teacher can model the words that may be used: “Sophie, Max is using the rattle.  Give the rattle back to Max. Let’s find you a different rattle.” Max and Sophie may be too young to communicate by verbal language, but communication did happen.  So did problem solving. Max was upset and got his needs met by vocalizing his want. Sophie was also communicating by taking the rattle. She wanted to play with that toy, too.

Here’s another example. Children are told to line up at the door to go outside. There’s a mark on the floor showing children where to start the line.  Ingrid stands at that line because she wants to be first. John gets in front of her. Ingrid takes a deep breath then says, “John, we can’t open the door if you are there. I am standing at the line. You have to move.”  The teacher, who is standing nearby, validates Ingrid for using her words and waits for John to move. Conflict averted.

Healthy emotional development is a life long process.  Just like we don’t teach toddlers algebra, we shouldn’t expect them to share consistently. We don’t teach first graders chemistry formulas, and we shouldn’t expect them to not get upset when someone takes their seat. But when we start healthy behaviors at a young age, we are assisting in forming healthy adults.

– Christine

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

“Tune In” to Language Development

When I’m observing teachers in the classroom, sometimes I want to remind them to bathe children in language, not drown them! Children learn so many things from a simple conversation: basic concepts like taking turns, listening when someone else is speaking (and expecting to be listened to when it’s their turn), when it’s appropriate to shout or whisper. We don’t have to over think it, but there are some important things to keep in mind.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Building a child’s vocabulary doesn’t happen when you’re quizzing them (with the best of intentions, of course) about items, shapes or colors. Incorporating these concepts into natural conversations is best practice. For example, when talking with children about a block structure, words like structure, taller, architecture and height may be introduced. There are opportunities all throughout your day for conversations like this one. “You made a circle with your paint!” “You threw the yellow ball into the basket.” It’s important to extend children’s language without being overwhelming

It’s also okay to not talk at times. Adults participate in communication all the time without vocalizing. Eye contact, body language and body placement are all forms of communication. The child who gazes at you from across the room may not need to be spoken to, but may want you to sit close to him or just make eye contact.

We need to value the child’s communication while they’re developing language skills. Some words may be hard to understand but we still need to value the attempt the child is making to communicate. Repeating what the child said can assist in clarification if needed. Repeating can also show the child you value what she said and that you are trying to understand.

Remember that children may be communicated with differently at home. When we not only have a relationship with the children in our care but with the families we serve, too, we can learn how families communicate and their expectations for their children.

I’m sure every adult has had the experience of talking to a child who appears to be ignoring you. Before getting upset, we have to look at the environment and think about the child.  Is the child actively engaged in an activity and may not have heard you? Is the music too loud?  Is the television on? What’s the volume like of the other children?  How many children are in the room?  Is the space too small for the amount of children?  Are there a lot of materials that make noise? With so much stimulation, children often can’t figure out what’s important for them to listen to. Adults can “tune out” when we want to, but children are still developing that skill. We need to consider the whole environment before jumping to conclusions.

– Christine

The Best Job in the World

Joy StoverOn October 8 at 7:35 p.m., I was blessed with my third little angel, Kenneth Abraham. During my pregnancy so many people asked if I was planning on going back to work. My reply? “Of course! Why wouldn’t I? This is my third baby!”I thought I would just jump right back into the swing of things because I was such a pro, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I think this one has been the hardest transition for me because I know he is my last!

As my older two were growing up I used to say, “I can’t wait until he can roll over,” or “I can’t wait until she can talk,” but with Kenny I want to cherish every smile, every tear, every cry and every giggle! He slept for 8 and a half hours last night and while a part of me is jumping for joy that we have a sleeper, I am feeling sad that the midnight “dates” he and I shared in the rocking chair by his bedroom window snuggling close together every few hours are going to dwindle away. I’m even becoming a little jealous of his caregiver because she often gets to see more of him than I do.

Those of us who care for these precious little ones have such a huge responsibility. Have you ever stopped and thought about who you are caring for each day? Mother and Father’s sweet baby, Grandma and Papa’s dear little ones, Auntie’s little stinker… what an undertaking! In the office we often use the phrase “success by six” to describe just how important early childhood is. Children’s brains are developing at such a high rate and it is our responsibility to make sure we aid in this process, which means knowing the rules and regulations and learning about what is developmentally appropriate in our professional development each year. We aren’t baby sitters, we’re child care professionals! Being a mom, being an early childhood educator… they’re both the best job in the world.

Hearts on Their Sleeves

In a recent conversation with a child care provider, she asked me my thoughts on taking off a child’s shirt if he or she is eating a messy food, like spaghetti. Many parents don’t like when their child comes home with a messy shirt, and many child care providers naturally want to keep parents as happy as their children! Despite this possible conflict, I have to say that taking off a child’s shirt while they are eating is not the most appropriate solution to the problem.

Meal times are such a special time for young children. They meet children’s physical needs, but they are also a great time to address a child’s social and emotional needs. Very young children, including infants, need to be treated with respect. It can be easy to treat infants and toddlers as individuals who are “becoming” someone who has preferences, moods and thoughts but really, infants and toddlers already have and feel all of these things. How would you feel if you had to take your shirt off every time you ate a meal? You might not want to do it in front of other people, and very young children deserve that same privacy. We can’t expect an infant to enjoy meal times and get the most out of the experience if he or she is uncomfortable. Mealtime should be a sociable, happy time.

It might not seem like it’s that simple, especially when it’s easier for us to take their shirt off and save the time cleaning them up, or explaining to mom or dad where that huge, mysterious stain came from. But what’s easier for us isn’t a good enough reason. When a child is first learning to feed themselves, it can get quite messy, especially when they are moving past finger foods. At that point, it would most definitely be easier to feed them ourselves. But we know that it’s developmentally appropriate for a child to learn to do these things for herself. It’s our job to let them feed themselves and then clean up the mess.

Still worried about the parent with the dirty shirt? Communicating clearly and often with parents about the environment you are trying to create for the children in your care will help with their concerns. We want to view parents as members of our team, and as the member of the team who is the “professional,” it’s our job to let parents know why we do what we do. Let parents know that meal times (and other messy activities) are learning opportunities. During this time, young children interact with their child care providers and with each other, develop healthy habits, explore food (tastes, colors, smells), build motor and cognitive skills and enjoy a sense of caring and community. If all else fails, break out the bibs!

Staying in the Moment

This past weekend my 8-month-old granddaughter Josephine and her parents came for a visit. It was a joy to watch her learn and play. She has just started to crawl, so we would lay her on a blanket on the living room floor and surround her with toys. We found that she did not move much and quickly got fussy. So my daughter Jennifer got out some different items that Josephine loved… paper and faces! Namely, laminated photographs of the family. When we placed them off the edge of the blanket, Josephine was on the move. We couldn’t keep her on the blanket.

When she finally got a hold of the photographs, Josephine would coo and “talk” to them. It was easy to encourage her by talking to her about the photos, who was in them, what they were doing, how they were related to her. We focused on what interested her with this activity, and by doing this we were able to keep her engaged and increase her physical and language development.

Staying in the moment with Josephine was a positive experience for us and for her, too. I encourage you to observe and listen to the children in your care in the same way. When we let children explore what they are interested in, we are supporting their development. Take the time to create a rich and stimulating environment that has its foundation in what interests the children in your classroom. But my favorite reason to stay in the moment? It reduces stress! As psychologist Abraham Maslow said, The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” This is my wish for you and the young children in your care.

Baby Talk

Last week I was in a well known department store shopping for a birthday gift when I noticed a new mother with her infant son in a stroller. It was so meaningful to see her having a conversation with her baby.  She pulled a dress off the rack and held it up for him to inspect.  “What do you think of this one Sam?  Not bad, huh?” Her baby gazed thoughtfully at it from his stroller. A nearby salesclerk gave the mother an amused glance. “Do you really think he understands?” “Probably not,” agreed the mother, smiling.

I could tell from the look on the mother’s face and her frowning that the clerk had made her feel foolish. I approached the mom and told her that I could tell he loved the dress and I thought it was wonderful that she was having conversation with her son. She told me that her son’s caregiver was always going on about the importance of talking to babies, but maybe it didn’t really matter. After all, Sam certainly couldn’t understand words at five months. She said that “other than trying to coax a smile out of him, why bother?” I told her that conversation with her child was crucial. I told her that I have been in the early childhood field for almost 30 years and I could assure her that talking with your baby was going to make a huge difference on so many levels. She thanked me for my kind gesture and I reassured her that she should buy the dress because Sam had given a long series of squeals and I was sure he loved the bright colors.

I was driving home and I kept thinking, what do babies think when adults converse with them? In fact, a word-for-word translation of a five-month-old’s thoughts on conversation might read something like this:

I wish I could tell that store clerk a thing or two. I do care if you talk to me! Learning to talk is a two-way street. You know what I mean:  one of us starts, the other answers; then the first person says something back, and so on.  I’m catching on to that pretty quick, even though I don’t use words yet. So what if my conversation consists mostly of a couple of gurgling sounds, a few fancy arm maneuvers and that toothless grin you seem to like so much? You always answer! And that’s the thing that lets me know I’ve got the hang of it. 

Besides, I like the sound of your voice. When you talk to me it lets me know I’m a real person. I am a person who is loved and respected and definitely worth talking to.

So, if you are a teacher in an early childhood program, a family child care provider, a new mom, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle or the casual shopper in a department store… speak and smile to babies! Small talk is important. Also, remember these important tips:

  • Hold and cuddle your baby while you’re talking. Look into his or her eyes.  Your baby needs to hear you talk in order to learn to talk himself.
  • Give your baby lots of time to respond when you say something.
  • Imitate the sounds you hear your baby make. Some day he or she will be able to make them back to you as a game. Eventually he or she may even start the game.
  • When you see your baby staring at something, tell her what it is and move closer to it.
  • Watch your baby’s reactions. If he or she turns their head away or seems tired or upset when you’re talking, they are letting you know they have had enough for right now.
  •  Never quit smiling. A smile is worth a thousand words!