Tag Archives: toddlers

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

Random Acts of Experimentation

Recently when we were sitting at the table finishing lunch, my wife and I were relishing an extended conversation while our son, Eli, switched between spreading peanut butter on crackers and licking his fingers.

With lunch I had a glass of water and Eli had an apple juice box. As my wife and I continued talking, I saw something out of the corner of my eye: Eli’s hand reaching for my glass of water. I looked over and he smiled and said, “Can I have this?” “Sure,” I replied. Boy, was he excited. But why? Did he finish his juice box? Was he still thirsty?

Turns out he needed to experiment. He spread out a cloth napkin on the table, dunked his juice box upside down into my half-full glass of water, gave it a squeeze, set the box on the table and squeezed again. Much to his delight, watery apple juice squirted out! Over and over he did this until he was out of water.

Not wanting to miss this awesome moment I said, “Wow! How did you do that?”

He replied, “Like this,” dunking his juice box in the water glass again and squeezing it.

“Oh, you squeeze it and air bubbles come out. Where does the water go?” I asked.

“Yah, it goes here,” he said, giving the box a good squeeze, making the water spray onto the napkin.

“I like how you spread the napkin out. It seems to catch the water,” I said.

“We don’t want too messy. It would be a big mess!” he said. “This is just a little bit.”

Why didn’t my wife and I stop this? Water could go everywhere; he’s playing with a glass and making a mess! But we didn’t stop him. We never stepped in and re-directed him. Why not? What were we thinking?

We were thinking , “Why NOT let him experiment?” He was gaining so much from this harmless activity that to stop him would keep him from learning and making connections with other activities. It only lasted about eight minutes and he was thoroughly satisfied when finished.

Allowing young children the freedom to experiment with materials in their own way encourages them to be scientists, hypothesize about problems and discover for themselves how and why things work. They also are developing fine motor and persistence skills needed to navigate a complex world. When we take this window of opportunity to ask probing questions, add new vocabulary and allow for time to process we turn this impromptu moment into an intentional one.

After Eli had exhausted his supply of water he let out a very satisfying sigh looking at the now empty glass, the juice box and the soaked napkin. Then he looked at us, smiling, and said, “Want to go play trucks? You can have the concrete mixer, daddy, and mommy can use the water.”

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 5 A’s of the Heart

I recently overheard an interaction between a child care provider and the children in her toddler classroom that made me a little bit uneasy. The sounds of children crying were eclipsed by their teacher saying, “Those of you who are crying, go away. My friends who aren’t crying want to have circle time.”

In Lynn Staley’s Nurturing Positive Behaviors In Your Classroom, she states that “children need mentors more then they need critics.” This has always rung true for me. Too often I observe child care providers speaking at children but not with them, using language that does not guide positive behavior but condescends and devalues. While I feel it’s important to point out that lengthy circle time is not appropriate for 2-year-olds, what’s most important for me to note about this interaction was the lack of empathy in the child care provider’s statement and her tone.

According to the “5 A’s of the heart,” also discussed in Staley’s book, children need affirmation, attention, acceptance, affection and appreciation. All children deserve affirmation, to hear positive reinforcement and praise. Regardless of behaviors, each child has strengths that we should emphasize.

Children also need attention. Every child wants to know that their caregivers are happy to see them each morning. Sometimes children “act out” because they are desperately seeking attention, and even negative attention is attention! When you have many children in your care, it’s important to recognize and value each child.

My personal favorite is acceptance. All children need to feel accepted and not just by their friends, but by you, too! Children will react by mimicking your behavior, so remember that if you are constantly saying a child’s name or calling a child out for challenging behaviors, the other children may not include that child in play and may even tell that child that she is “bad.” I like to think of Staley here, too: “When we speak every child’s name with kindness and respect, it is the truest demonstration of our sincerity.”

Research has shown that warm, responsive touch positively influences a child’s development, so show them some affection! With the child’s permission offer high fives, hugs, lap sitting and other appropriate touching as much as possible. Remember that not every child welcomes touching, so when we ask we’re showing that child appreciation, too. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that children want to feel valued and appreciated. All people do.

Let’s be honest, anyone who has ever worked in a child care setting has experienced circle time like the one I described in the beginning. I know I have. However, the best professionals (in any field) want to learn from their mistakes and do better. If you’ve ever wanted to tell a crying toddler to “go away,” consider this: the “5 A’s of the heart” will help you to have a classroom that supports a child’s growing identity, shows each child how much you value them and are there to comfort them and will hopefully keep you from reaching a place where you feel you need to tell any child to “go away.”

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.