Newsletters: Summer 2014
The Best Practices for Infant & Toddler Development
By Stacy Zogheib
Best practices, also known as developmentally appropriate practices, are those that are known to help infants and toddlers develop their individual potential. They are a series of principles that guide the planning and actions of people who work with and care for young children. Although they are often applied to child care centers, the idea of best practices can also have merit for parents who choose to care for their children at home.
Best practices acknowledge that for infants and toddlers, learning is relationship-based, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Infants and toddlers become attached to people they spend time with. These people include parents, caregivers, babysitters, siblings, relatives and anyone else that a child develops a relationship with. The security of these attachments enables infants and toddlers to explore their world, knowing that they will have these relationships to return to. Infants and toddlers who experience trauma or who are removed from their primary caregivers need additional support to develop healthy attachments to new people.
Sequential Learning and Development
Best practices also include knowledge of typical infant and toddler development. Most parents and child care professionals know generally what to expect from babies and toddlers at certain ages. Knowledge about what is developmentally typical helps parents and caregivers to adjust their activities, expectations and actions to what the baby or toddler is capable of. Sequential development means that certain milestones happen in a specific order for particular reasons. Most babies crawl before they walk and babble before they talk. Knowledge of development also helps individuals to determine if a particular behavior is cause for concern or not. For example, a newborn who wakes every 3 hours to eat is developmentally appropriate, while this same behavior could be cause for concern in a 3-year-old.
Importance of Early Experiences
Best practices for infants and toddlers acknowledge that early experiences are important, says the NAEYC. This does not mean that people need to cram every possible experience and enrichment class into the first 3 or 5 years. It means that early experiences matter, and that relationships, consistency and stability are particularly important at this young age. Before age 3, children learn about the world based on whether or not their needs for food, structure and love are met. Children who experience traumas or who have many inconsistent caregivers at a young age may find it more difficult to form secure attachments as they grow older.
Importance of Play
The importance of play is a critical aspect of best practice. Infants and toddlers learn through play, and through independent exploration. A baby who is lying on her back shaking a rattle is learning about cause and effect, fine motor skills and sound. She may choose to experiment with rolling over to see how her body works, or she may get frustrated and fuss to be picked up. All of these simple activities are opportunities for an infant to form ideas about how the world works.
Alternatives to Saying 'No'
By Amanda Rock
Option to say "yes." That's not to say you should agree to your preschooler jumping on the bed or acquiesce to her request for another ice pop. But you can change the game a little bit by offering her something else that is similar to her original request. "I don't know if jumping on the bed is such a great idea. Can you show me how high you can jump here on the floor?" "You've already had an ice pop today. You can have another one tomorrow. Why don't you have some other snack instead?" The important thing to remember is though, is to offer your little one choices that are acceptable to you no matter what she decides on.
Say "no" differently. Sometimes you have to say no, it's not an option. But if you are tired of saying that little word over and over again, there are other words you can use in its place. "Stop!" "Hot!" "Danger!" are all acceptable substitutes, depending on the scenario your little one finds himself in.
Buy yourself some time. A distraction can be your greatest ally. If your child asks to go outside and play but you aren't ready for her to do so yet, redirect her to something else. Say, "We'll try to go outside in a few minutes. While you wait for me to finish up the laundry, why don't you play with your trucks?" If what your child is asking for isn't an option for you in the near future, then say so. "We can't go outside today, but play with your dollhouse for now and we'll see if we can do something fun after lunch."
Choose your battles. It's a well-known expression for a reason. In this case, think about what you are saying no to. Is it something that you can let go? Would it be the worst thing in the world if your child wore her princess costume to the grocery store? Is it really so bad if your son plays with the pots and pans while you cook dinner? If you want to reduce the number of times a day you say no to your child, think about what it is you are rejecting and see if there is a way to change your behavior
Make sure you are consistent. If you threaten to take something away from your child or say you aren't going to do something if they continue a certain behavior, make sure you follow through. Otherwise you are just making an empty threat that won't mean anything to your little one. If your child consistently turns on the faucet in the bathroom sink and you've told her that if she does that again she can't watch television, carry out the punishment. If you don't, she'll learn that your threats are just that and she'll continue to behave the way she wants to.
Challenge your child to get you to say yes. Justine Miller, a mom to twins who lives in New York, says she used to keep a daily chart of how many times she would say yes and how many times she would say no.
"I found when my kids were accountable for their behavior and saw how many times they would get in trouble for something, they became more aware of how they would act during the day. Soon I wouldn't have to say, 'No jumping on the couch!' because they would remember." Miller said that soon enough there were more days where she was saying yes than no and everyone was much happier. Miller said she implemented a reward system -- on days where "yes" was heard more frequently, she would bring her boys to the dollar store for a treat.
Know that "no" isn't the worst thing to say. Saying "no" sometimes isn't open for another option. Sometimes it's the right word at the right time and you just have to say it. When you do, be firm and don't waffle. The reality is, kids don't do everything right all of the time and when they make a mistake or a poor choice, they need to be corrected.
Find out why finger painting is an important life skill
By Jennifer Brozak
If the term "preschool art" brings to mind images of finger-paint-covered hands, macaroni necklaces and lopsided smiley-face drawings, consider this: While your mini Monet is creating these seemingly simple art projects, he is also working on developing his social and emotional skills. Preschool teachers know that art projects not only allow young tots to work on their fine motor skills and color and shape concepts, but also provide an invaluable tool when it comes to allowing young children to express themselves.
Most preschoolers love playing with colorful modeling dough and compounds because they can squish, pound and cut the stuff into just about any shape imaginable. However, there is another reason this malleable medium is a staple in most preschool classrooms. According to Kristin Henry, an early-childhood special-education teacher with the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit in Greensburg, Penn., modeling compounds can help children improve their social skills. "While using these compounds, kids can talk to each other about what they are creating," she says. "They can use language to share their tools, and they can also help each other or give each other ideas." For example, as a way to make story time more interactive at home, you can read a story to your children -- or, if your child is on a playdate, your child and his friends -- and then, afterward, give them a can or two of compound and have them work together to create characters and objects from the story.
Ever wonder why tots like drawing on clean, freshly painted walls? Most likely, it's because, from a young child's perspective, those unblemished walls look like giant sheets of canvas. Preschool teachers often take advantage of this fascination by providing a less permanent, more washable art project: cooperative art, where children can all participate in painting or drawing a mural-esque scene on a giant sheet of paper. "Cooperative art allows the children to work together to make one large picture," says Henry. "For example, they could paint a picture of the zoo, the beach, or a playground. Each child can add his or her own ideas to be part of the group." This, in turn, fosters a child’s socialization through communication and shared play. To adapt this popular preschool activity for home use, try hanging a giant sheet of butcher paper on one of your walls and then invite your kiddo and his brothers and sisters or friends to paint or draw away. Weather permitting, you could even allow kids to do this outside in the driveway with sidewalk chalk or washable paints.
One of the most effective ways to use art to enhance a child's emotional development is also one of the simplest: drawing. Even in its most basic form, the simple task of putting crayon to paper can allow a preschooler to communicate his emotions. "You can have preschoolers draw pictures of how they feel, and have them practice making happy and sad faces. You can also ask them what kinds of things make them feel different ways," says Henry. In addition, even though the artwork may seem primitive, the very act of drawing can stimulate a child’s sense of self-esteem. "From an adult's perspective, encouraging and acknowledging the work that a child put into a project really helps with their sense of importance and self-confidence," she says. "An adult should ask a child to 'tell me about your picture' rather than ask, 'What is it?' Simply by adjusting the way you ask the question, you can build on a kid’s social and emotional skills."
Sure, it can be messy, but dabbling with watercolors, tempera paints or washable inks -- especially at an easel -- can encourage a child to express his emotions. "Painting is a great way to allow kids to express themselves, and is often found to be calming and to help kids to relax," says Henry. "Whether kids are painting with a brush or finger paint, they can be free to use their imaginations, or not really think at all and put paint on the page." At preschool, children often paint at double- or four-sided easels, which promotes hand-eye coordination and spatial recognition and nurtures communication, since children will likely be talking about what they are painting as well as the techniques they’re using ("I'm going to paint a TREE here!" or "I'm going to make a circle on this side of the page! What are you painting?") Overall, Henry says, "Art is a great way to improve a variety of developmental areas in preschool children. The variety and textures of materials helps with a child's ability to explore and helps them feel confident when they complete a project." Double-sided, child-sized art easels are easy to find in many toy stores, allowing you to easily duplicate this activity when your child is at home playing with his siblings or on a playdate.