Archive for ELECT

21 Jan 2013

How to Raise Compassionate Children

1 Comment Being Intentional, Parenting, Social, Socio-Emotional Development

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes. – Fred  Rogers

As responsive caregivers we are setting the foundation for empathy right from the very beginning of a child’s life. By responding appropriately to them we are showing them that we are aware of their needs and feelings. Through our actions they learn that their caregivers provide what they need, whether it’s food, a change or simply love and comfort. When infants get older and become mobile we begin to see them display empathy. I’ve seen many older infants and young toddlers bring a crying child a toy or other comfort object. They are beginning to respond to others in an empathetic way. Clearly we are born with a need for caring relationships, a need to engage others and even to empathize with them and to help. We are born with the capacity for compassion.

So what then do we do to nurture this ability in children? How do empathetic children become compassionate adults? How do we help children to learn to help others? How old do we have to be to learn compassion?

I think that the best way that we can help children to have compassion and to help others is through our own actions. Many of us donate our money and our time to help those less fortunate than ourselves, however, how much of this do our children see? If we’re simply writing cheques, how will our children become aware of our contributions? For those who keep busy schedules, sometimes the only way to contribute is financially, and that’s fine. I would encourage you, however to try to do this in a way that your children are aware of your contributions. Use the labels and cards that charities often send to accompany a donation. Tell the children where these items came from and what the money you gave went towards. If they are old enough, have conversations with them about what charities you support and ask what charities they would like to support by asking who they would like to help or how.

Some others ways to demonstrate compassion would be to make it a regular occurrance to go through your home and gather clothes that don’t fit, toys or household items that are no longer used. Pack these items up and take them to the donation centre together. When children are old enough they can start to make their own choices about what toys to keep and which to donate. If you volunteer and it’s appropriate, take your child with you. They might be too young to make a significant contribution, however, simply being present to see the work that you are doing will impact them. If we model these actions and behaviours right from the start, children will grow up with this type of work as a normal part of their lives and I think that’s the goal. As they grow and develop, so will their involvement and I think that children can certainly surprise us with their capacity to care and desire to help others.

My hope is that the next generation will be more caring, more empathetic and more compassionate than ever before.

07 Jan 2013

Documentation and Reflection

2 Comments Documentation, Early Childhood Education, Infants

I have wanted to read The Diary of Laura for a number of years now, even purchasing a copy at conference last year, however I’ve been so caught up in the busyness of life that I tucked it away and promptly forgot about it. Luckily, my year end cleaning turned it up and now I’m trying to work through it in an intentional way, as is my goal for all things this year. The Diary of Laura is, as it sounds, the documentation diary of a infant named Laura during her time in an infant-toddler program in Reggio Emilia, Italy. What I really like about this book is that it has a number of chapters written by different authors sharing their reflections on the diary, and their experiences working with young children. There is also a section with questions to encourage group reading or the use of the book as a professional development tool, so if anyone wants to start a group read of this book, let me know.

One of the first things that struck me is a question posed in the introduction of the book – “Is the form of documentation called “diary” still of interest after twenty years?” I think that as early childhood educators, the practice of documentation is one that we are constantly refining. Programs and individuals have different goals in their use of documentation and especially as technology continues to evolve and change, our methods of documentation also seem to be changing. So, then if we are trying to determine whether the “diary” is still of interest, we need to examine what do we mean by “diary”. Clearly, a diary is a narrative form of documentation, it can include media, such as photos or videos and work samplings. However, I think what sets a diary apart from other documentation is that it requires reflection. A diary is not an exclusively objective presentation of the facts, it allows for wonder, for speculation. You can go back to a previous entry in a diary and continue to add to it, as insights occur. Contextual information is often included. As important as it is for us to be objective observers, the value of our reflections and speculations about why a child might be doing something (especially when the child can’t tell us themselves) are of equal value. I think that in a time where test scores and checklists are becoming our standards for assessment, it’s important to include in our observations opportunities to reflect, to wonder, and even to speculate.

What do you think?

Oh, and one last thing- the diaries in the infant-toddler programs in Reggio and shared between caregivers and families, and both have the opportunity to contribute their thoughts and observations. What a wonderful way to nurture our partnerships with families!

02 Jan 2013

Wordless Wednesday – Clay

No Comments Infants

09 Jul 2012

What does it mean to have a sense of self?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 2.3 Sense of Self
  • sucking fingers, observing own hands
  • showing preference for being held by familiar people
  • beginning to distinguish known people from strangers
  • showing pleasure in mastery
  • playing confidently in the presence of caregiver and frequently checking in with her (social referencing)
  • increasing awareness of opportunities to make things happen yet limited understanding of consequences of own actions
Hold the infant securely when she is meeting a new person. Look at the person and reach out to them.
This helps the infant remain secure with new people and build confidence as she expresses her preference for certain people.

 

Infants are people.

Take a moment and think about that. I know it seems obvious, but I think as adults and as caregivers we can forget that these tiny little humans who depend on us so completely are also individuals. They are unique individuals who are developing their own identities and personalities as well as their “likes” and “dislikes”. Infants are people, just like you and I are people. Now, being conscious of that, how does this affect the way that we engage with infants? How can we not only appreciate them as individuals, but support them in the early stages as they begin to develop a sense of self?

My first tip- allow babies some time to be naked. No joke. Infants are learning about their bodies; they are discovering their hands, their feet and all the different parts of their bodies, but to be able to do that they need access. How will they ever learn they have toes if their feet are always covered with socks or slippers? Additionally, bodies that are free from clothing have freedom of movement. There’s a reason babies love to be naked, so why not turn the heat up a notch and allow your infant some time to explore their bodies freely?

Another suggestion is to provide lots of opportunities for uninterrupted, child-initiated play. By this I mean allowing infants the freedom to select a material to explore and the freedom to explore that material however they choose for as long as possible. Infants learn about themselves and the world around them through exploration. When we allow them to make choices and take initiative in their play, we support their sense of self.

Thinking about your infants interactions with others, strangers in particular, you can support your infant by paying close attention to their cues. “Auntie” might want to hold your infant, but is your infant alright with being held by a stranger? Maybe they need a few minutes to get to know each other before your infant will want to experience close contact. Allow your infant to dictate the pace, which will help them to make choices, to feel secure and will allow this introduction of a stranger to be a positive, and not distressful experience.

An infant who is still developing their sense of self, continues to rely on their caregiver to provide a safe and secure environment. They trust us to provide freedrom to explore, appropriate materials and a safe space. Infants learn how to be secure in themselves by being secure in their caregivers.

Photo from: MGD Photography

29 Jun 2012

The Value in Playing With Mud

1 Comment ELECT, Infants, Preschool/Kindergarten, Toddlers

Today is international mud day, a day when it’s more than okay to get a little messy.

I like the idea of having a mud day for many reasons. First of all, it promotes being messy and sometimes messy play is the most fun. It also promotes being outdoors, no matter what the weather, which I think is important. The beauty of mud day is if it rains, it actually makes more mud and therefore more fun. Finally, I like that mud is completely open ended, you don’t have to be a certain age to play in mud and there are so many possibilities. Once you get into it, playing in mud is freeing, it is an experience for the senses, its a way to let go of “product” activities and keeping things tidy and just allow the children (and yourself) to explore.

Online, I always find myself drawn to blog posts or photos or even videos of mud play. I am always inspired by early childhood programs that made mud a part of their everyday practice or even devote entire days to exploring mud. There is something about mud that fascinates and engages children and I think that they don’t always get enough opportunities to follow that interest and really explore with mud. However, we know that children are always learning and that they learn best when they’re engaged in something that really interests them.

Using the ELECT Continuum, here are just a few of the many different ways that children learn when playing with mud.

Infants

5.3 Tactile Discrimination (touching, rubbing, squeezing materials)

Infants and toddlers love sensory play. They almost always enjoy getting dirty and they learn best when they can completely immerse themselves and use all of their senses in play. Mud might be dirt-y but it’s all natural, so it shouldn’t hurt them if they try to check it out using their sense of taste. Infants don’t need any props in their mud play, just complete access so they can explore with their arms, legs, hands and feet.

Toddlers

4.1 Attention Regulation (maintaining attention for increasing periods of time)

4.4 Spatial Exploration (exploring containment by putting objects in containers and by dumping them)

5.3 Sensory Exploration (using all senses in the exploration of properties and functions of objects and materials)

Society often portrays very young children as having short attention spans, but those of us who have children or work with children know that when something really catches their interest, and we allow them the freedom to play uninterrupted, they can do so for significant lengths of time. Toddlers, like infants will enjoy exploring mud simply with their bodies, but at this age, you might also want to add different sizes of containers or even strainers and funnels to let them fill and empty with mud. At this age, you may also begin to see imitative or pretend play; their first attempts and mud pies or even mud soup.

Preschool/Kindergarten

3.5 Using Descriptive Language to Explain, Explore and Extend (using new vocabulary and grammatical constructions in their descriptive language)

4.3 Representation (using a variety of materials to build with and express their ideas & sustaining and extending their socio-dramatic play with language, additional ideas and props)

4.5 Observing (using all senses to gather information while observing)

Preschool and Kindergarten age children may enjoy exploring mud using a mud kitchen or even a mud laboratory. At this age, they engage in a lot of pretend play and will probably enjoy creating with the mud. They are also doing a lot of experiments, they are able to make predictions and solve problems they encounter in their play. There are many opportunities for language through mud play, just think of all the different ways we can describe mud- gooey, runny, sticky, bumpy, oozing, malleable, etc. They might enjoy making their own mud, experimenting with consistency and adding other elements from nature, such as grass, leaves, sticks or even flowers.

For us adults, I think that we should all spend some time with our hands in the mud. It’s relaxing, it’s freeing and it allows us to recapture the joy of playing and having fun!

Happy Mud Day!

For more mud reading, check out these links:

From Community Playthings: The Mud Center: Recapturing Childhood

From The Imagination Tree: An Outdoor Concoctions (read: mud) Kitchen

From Let The Children Play: Mud Play at Preschool

From Growing a Jeweled Rose: 30+ Mud Activities to Celebrate International Mud Day

Photo from Flickr- FreeLearningLife

22 May 2012

From the mouths of babes

No Comments Cognitive, ELECT, Preschool/Kindergarten
Preschool Kindergarten (2.5 to 6 years)
Cognitive
4.7 Reflecting and Reaching Conclusions
  • describing similarities and cause and effect in recurring events
  • identifying patterns of events
  • describing connections between different objects, events and experiences
  • making generalizations about different objects, events and experiences
Ask a child: “How do you know what comes next?”
Or: “How did you figure that out?”

This will invite the child to reveal his thinking and tell how he came to his conclusion.

 

A few months ago, I spent a day at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). While I was there, I overheard a young boy of about four say something that has continued to stick with me. He pointed to one of the “stuffed” animals in the exhibit and shouted out “Look, a fossil yak”. The reason that this has stayed with me is because that simple statement seemed to be such a wonderful indication of how he was learning and processing information. It was as though I could see the cogs turning in his head, I could see how he might have come to call this animal a “fossil yak”. This young boy and his family had been going through the ROM in much the same direction we had, and I had seen him in the previous exhibit we’d been in, which was the dinosaur exhibit. So, I could imagine how this young child could have learned that the dinosaurs that he was seeing were not alive, and he learned that these dinosaurs were instead fossil dinosaurs. Then, moving into another room and seeing animals that were not alive, he could have taken the information that he’d already learned, which is that something that isn’t alive is a fossil, and then apply that principle to a new situation. This could certainly lead to his declaration that the animal before him was a “fossil yak”.

All too often, children’s comments are remembered or repeated because they are “cute” and we often joke about what kids say. I wonder, though, how often we really think about some of the comments that children make about the world around them? I wonder if we think about what these comments can tell us about children, about their learning and development, about their observations of the world and how they process information. Children learn and grow so rapidly, especially in their early years; their brains are constantly changing as they take in and process new information and have new experiences. I think that we don’t spend enough time appreciating that process. Children are not empty vessels needing to be filled with knowledge so that they become more intelligent, more mature. They aren’t just cute. They are explorers and scientists and they spend a lot more time contemplating the world around them and trying to understand it than we do. So, next time a child says something “cute”, take a moment to really think about what they’re saying. It might be more revealing than you originally thought.

27 Sep 2011

Sharing is Caring?

4 Comments ELECT, Parenting, Social, Toddlers, Toddlers
Toddlers (14 months -3 years)
Social 

1.1 Social Interest

  • observing and imitating peers
  • beginning to play “follow the peer” games
  • observing and playing briefly with peers (may turn into struggle for possession)
  • offering toys
  • engaging in short group activities
Incorporating singing games into play and routines. Engage one child at a time where other toddlers can observe. 

Toddler’s natural social interest in adults and children helps to focus their attention.

Observing the shared joy of the singing game will motivate involvement when a new game is being introduced.

There’s this phrase I hear time and again from parents and child care workers- “sharing is caring”. It bothers me every time I hear it, especially since it’s often used with toddlers and “twos”. I’m not sure where the phrase originated but I’m pretty sure it’s a big purple dinosaur that’s responsible for its popularity.

Now it’s not that I’m adverse to sharing (or caring for that matter), my issue is how this phrase is used and who it’s being directed towards.
I most often hear this phrase as a admonishment to a child. This child may be playing with a toy another child shows interest in or wanting to hold on to all of the cars or blocks. The phrase “sharing is caring” is used to tell the child to give up their current play so that another child can play. Now let’s imagine this same scenario in a more “adult” context. I’m working on a note in a client file and Joe wants to work on the same file. Joe and I cannot work on the file at the same time. Now it may frustrate or inconvenience Joe that I am working on this client file, he might even ask me to stop my work to give him the file. However, I am fully within my rights to refuse because I’m still using it. Now imagine that Joe’s recourse is to go to our boss; what do you think his response would be? Do you think my boss would ask me to give up the file to Joe stating “sharing is caring”? Doubtful. Would he set up a schedule for me to have the file for 1 minute and then Joe would have a turn for 1 minute and then it would be my turn again? Or would he just trust us to sort things out for ourselves?

Why don’t we allow children the opportunity to negotiate these property disputes on their own? Who are we to decide what is fair or unfair? It is difficult to watch children fight over toys and even more so when one child seems to always have toys taken from them. However, in those instances, does our intervention really help that child? In the short term perhaps, but in the long term, wouldn’t they benefit from learning how to hold onto their toys tighter or to tell other children “mine”? When we intervene, we take away those opportunities for children to negotiate these types of social situations on their own.

The other thing I’d like to touch on briefly is the expectations for very young children to share. Often I hear caregivers tell children as young as twelve or thirteen months to share. We need to remember that infants and toddlers are still very ego centric and they are supposed to be that way. At that age it is “all about me”. They might sometimes offer up toys or “share” with others, but only on their own terms. Our expectations should reflect this. I’m reminded of a poem I’ve read time and again:

Toddler Property Laws

What’s Mine is… Mine

If I like it, it’s mine

If I saw it first, it’s mine

If it’s in my hand, it’s mine

If I can take it from you, it’s mine

If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine

If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way

If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine

If you are playing with it and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine

If it’s broken, it’s yours

I”m not against supporting children in turn taking and learning how to share, I just think that we need to use the right words and have the right expectations based on their age.

What do you think?

Photo by Andrew_mc_d (Flickr)

01 Sep 2011

Can you “spoil” a baby by picking them up?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 

2.2 Self-Regulation

Emotion Regulation

  • becoming calm when comforted by familiar adults
  • comforting self with thumb
  • recovering from distress and over-stimulation in a secure relationship
Respond to infant’s distress by supporting his self-soothing behaviours. 

When recovery from distress is supported by an adult, the infant’s attachment to the adult is reinforced. The infant learns that strong emotions can be tolerated and recovery is hastened.

The one thing that I wish that I could tell every new parent and caregiver is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up too often. I know that seems like common sense to many people but unfortunately that old way of thinking is still present in our culture today. I think that almost every person I have encountered with a young baby has had an older relative or neighbour tell them not to pick up their crying child.

What we know now, however, is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up. We also have a much better understanding of how important it really is that we respond to an infant’s distress. It is through our consistent responses to an infant’s distress that we reinforce our attachment with that infant. This  helps them to feel secure and is the foundation upon which a child learns to regulate their own emotions and behaviours. By consistently demonstrating to infant’s and young children that we will be there if they need us, they are able to learn to calm their own distress, knowing that their caregiver will meet their needs.

Understanding this, I also want to caution caregivers to “look before you leap”. What I mean by this is rather than rushing in to swoop up a crying infant, take a moment to determine why the infant is crying first. Do they have a physical need; are they hungry or tired? There are times when intervention is required by the caregiver, but there are other times when the infant simply needs comfort or support. This might mean engaging the infant in a different way. Rather than picking up the infant, you might choose to get down to their level, talk to them or place a reassuring hand on their arm or back, as you would with an older child or adult. We can offer this type of support, especially as the infant  becomes older and is learning to self-regulate.

It is through the consistency of our responses to children’s distress that we form secure attachment relationships and within those relationships, children are able to learn to regulate their own emotions. The way that we respond to children’s needs is so important and although there are no expectations that we will be perfect, our consistency and responsiveness is key to helping children’s socio-emotional development.

Photo by: Dan Harrelson (Flickr)

19 Aug 2011

Why are we in such a rush to sit down?

No Comments ELECT, Infants, Physical
Infants (0-24 months)
Physical 

5.1 Gross Motor

Sitting

  • sitting without support
While the infant is straddling your extended leg, hold her arms and bounce her gently. 

This rhythmic movement strengthens the muscles and balance involved in sitting.

I’m going to jump ahead to the Physical domain for this post because of something that happened to me yesterday. I had stepped in as a substitute facilitator in a parenting group for women with young babies. My co-facilitator, who regularly leads the group, asked me to bring out a breastfeeding pillow and show one of the mothers how to prop her six month old infant into a sitting position. I knew where we kept the breastfeeding pillows, however, it occurred to me in that moment that I don’t actually know the best way to prop up an infant into a sitting position. I don’t know because I’ve never done it.

In my practice I’ve never felt the need to use a pillow or other supports to hold a child in any position “independently” when they aren’t able to get into that position on their own. They are going to sit eventually, so what’s the rush? Why do we create these artificial milestones that children are only able to achieve with adult intervention? The ability to sit supported no longer matters when the child is able to sit unsupported. In the ELECT the milestone is identified as “sitting without support” with no mention of sitting with support as either a skill or even a strategy to support the development of the skill. So unless a professional has instructed you to prop your infant into a sitting position as part of an early intervention, don’t do it. You don’t need to.

At times I wonder if young children, especially infants, feel like marionettes with adults pulling the strings and manipulating their movements. Infants are definitely willing and able to move around on their own. With ample opportunities for free movement and exploration, children will achieve developmental milestones on their own, in their own time. That’s why the ELECT uses only the most general age guidelines, so that we don’t try and enforce a timeline. It’s a continuum of development with each new milestone logically following the previous milestone; that’s how we were meant to develop.  Children will get there in their own time, no need to rush.

Photo by Honza Soukup (Flickr)

17 Aug 2011

First Feelings

2 Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional

2.1 Expression of Emotion

  • expressing comfort and discomfort
  • expressing pleasure and displeasure
  • expressing anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, joy, excitement
  • showing affection with hugs
  • showing anxiety at separation from parents
  • showing clear attachment to parents
Observe infants to determine what senses and motor skills they enjoy and use for exploring.

Sensory and motor skills form the basis of individual differences in how infants calm themselves (self-regulation).

If an infant uses his visual sense to calm himself or pay attention, provide interesting visual stimulation to (your face or the infant’s favorite toy) to support self-regulation.

It can be easy to think that babies have two modes; babies who are happy smile and coo and play while babies who are sad cry. However what we forget in this assumption is that babies are people too with the same range of emotions that we experience as adults, although they aren’t yet able to express these emotions in the same ways that we do. Infants and young children are only just beginning the process of learning and understanding what emotions are, while at the same time experiencing them in a big way. This is why it’s so important that we acknowledge and label an infant’s feeling so that they can begin to learn to understand them and to manage them. This is also why it’s important to take the time to determine what a child is feeling before intervening. We are often quick to swoop in and try to “fix” a crying baby but how can we appropriately engage with an infant if we don’t know what they’re feeling.

If an infant begins to cry because of the frustration she is experiencing in her engagement with a toy and we pick her up and take her away from the toy, we remove the opportunity for her to work through her frustration. What message does that send? That if something frustrates you, you should give up? Will we further mislabel the feelings this infant experienced as “sad” or “tired” because we weren’t paying attention in the first place? Even worse will we send this child the message that it’s not alright to feel frustrated or to cry? For infants, crying is still the primary way that they are able to communicate their needs or express their negative emotions and we certainly don’t want to discourage that. We need to be respectful enough to allow the expression of all types of feelings.

We want infants and young children to express their emotions and to understand them. This means we need to pay close attention. As caregivers we should always respond to a crying baby in an observant and thoughtful way. This does not always mean picking a child up, but perhaps simply responding to them verbally. We should take the time to determine why they are crying so that we can respond appropriately. Further, although it’s easy to focus on the negative emotions and the act of crying, we also need to respond to and label the infant’s positive emotions, such as excitement or pride. Supporting an infant to understand and express their emotions is beneficial for both baby and caregiver.

Photo by Eric Fleming (Flickr).