17 Aug 2011

First Feelings

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

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).

30 Jun 2011

Building Relationships from a Distance

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

1.4 Maintaining Connection across Space

  • Uses gestures, vocalizations and her emerging expressice language to keep connected to an adult across space
Make eye contact when you are across the room.

Mobile, older infants are now able to communicate across space (distal communication).

Making eye contact from across the room can help to maintain your connection to an infant who is exploring.

It’s all about relationships.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; caregiving in the early years is all about relationships. The most important thing that we do day in and day out is not “teaching” new skills but forming trusting, supportive, respectful relationships with the infants and young children in our care. That being said, when it comes to group care, this can be a challenge because we are often very busy and rarely have the opportunities which allow us to have fully engaged one on one interactions with the children. So we do our best to have as many of those moments as we can and we take full advantage of caregiving routines which allow us this time. That being said, when it comes to forming relationships in a busy infant, the ability to keep connected across space is a significant one.

As we go about our classroom routines, we need to be conscious of what is happening with the children around us. By being attentive to children’s explorations, even from a distant, we allow them the opportunity to engage us in what they are doing, even when we are doing other things. Across the room, an infant may be exploring with a toy, and look over, attempting to make eye contact, he or she may gesture or say the name of the toy, trying to call our attention to what they are doing. Although we may be unable to join them in their exploration, by acknowledging their communication and responding to them, we are still able to support their exploration and strengthen the relationship. An infant or young child may call out for us with a need, such as hunger or physical affection. We might not be able to meet this need immediately if we are attending to another child, but now we are able to respond by letting the child know that we have heard them and will be there to support them when we are finished with the task at hand. We’re never too busy or too far away to respond to an infant or young child in a respectful, supportive way.

10 Jun 2011

The Power of No

No Comments Socio-Emotional Development, Toddlers

I’m working with a little one right now who is just turning two years old. Like many other children his age he is discovering the power of “no”. Being told “no” all the time can obviously become frustrating for his caregivers. However, what I’m now starting to wonder is how frustrating it is for him.

He’s going through a transition phase developmentally in which he is learning that he is his own person and can make his own choices. How scary and confusing that must be for him. I have  noticed that although he exercises his ability to say “no” regularly he doesn’t always seem pleased or certain about it. Thinking back to other toddlers that I’ve worked with, I’ve noticed a similar trend. Although they will often say “no”, sometimes they indicate through their body language, facial expressions and even their tone, that they don’t neccessarily mean “no” and sometimes they say it even when they mean “yes”. I remember this used to be a regular occurence at snack time, toddlers practicing saying “no” and then showing displeasure at not receiving more snack.

This observation of this particular child’s seeming conflict with his use of the word “no” reminded me of how mindful we need to be in our observations and responses to toddlers and young children. It can be easy to see “no” as a frustrating response or even defiant behaviour when it shouldn’t be. We need to support toddlers as they develop their independence and support their need to begin to make decisions. We can do this by establishing an environment that is safe for their exploration, one which will limit the amount that we need to tell them “no”. We can also do this by providing them with simple closed choices, such as “would you like toast or cereal?” Allowing them to make small choices, and therefore providing them with manageable amounts of control will help them to feel safe and secure as well as to exert their growing independence.

Also, next time you’re with a toddler, take a moment to imagine how it would feel to discover you suddenly have power and control over things you didn’t before. What a great responsibility that would be and how overwhelming that would feel. In this stage of development, which Erikson referred to as “autonomy vs shame and doubt”, toddlers are experiencing the push and pull of wanting to explore and to be independent while at the same time wanting to feel safe and secure with their caregivers. Therefore we need to be mindful of how we respond in these situations so that we can support their explorations appropriately.

I hope that next time you hear “no” you’ll take a deep breath and try to keep these things in mind before you respond.

29 Mar 2011

Holistic Development

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

1.3 Simple Turn Taking

  • Playing simple one-to-one games such as peekaboo
Cover your face with a transparent scarf. Pull it off and say “Peekaboo!” Pause and repeat. Soon the infant will pull off the scarf when you pause. When he does, say “Peekaboo!” Repeat so the infant takes turns.
This simple game provides practice in the give and take of simple turn taking.

This is a wonderful example of what I really love about the continuum in the ELECT. This item “simple turn taking” is found both here, in the Social domain, as well as being repeated later in the “communication, language and literacy” domain under non-verbal communication skills. This is great because it takes into account the holistic way that young children learn and develop. This and many other skills and milestones in the development of young children encompass multiple domains and I think that it’s important to remember that. Children (or adults for that matter) are never learning just one thing; they are taking in many things all around them, learning and growing at a rapid pace. Life isn’t a place where you can control for all the variables to isolate one factor, and I think that’s a good thing. There are several overlaps like this in the continuum and I hope that they will help all who use it to keep the holistic nature of development in mind as we work with and observe young children.

One more thing I’ve noticed is that “peek-a-boo” is a game that we all seem to instinctively play with babies. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you have a lot of experience with babies and young children or none at all, when faced with a baby, everyone seems to end up playing some form of “peek-a-boo” either with their hands, or peering over a newspaper or around a corner. At least that’s my experience. I’d love to know what you think.

21 Feb 2011

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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

1.2 Imitation

  • imitating adult behaviour
  • take part in pretend play with simple scenarios like caring for dolls
Opening your arms wide, say, “Big!” Pause and look directly at the infant. Repeat. When he imitates this action, say, “You did it!”
Playing “copy me” games supports observation and imitation as a way of learning.

Infants have an amazing capacity to learn. Not only do they learn at an incredibly rapid pace but they are constantly learning like sponges, absorbing all that’s around them. This can be a scary thing. Not only because as adults we can’t even hope to learn as much in a day or month or year as infants do, but because we are the ones that they are learning from.  As parents or caregivers, we are the primary influences in an infant’s life. They watch everything that we do (even the things we wish they didn’t). This puts us in a position of great responsibility. We are their guides to this world, teaching them how they can interact with their environment as well as with those around them. Thinking about our everyday lives, if we were more conscious that we were being watched and our actions were being analyzed, would that change our behaviours? Are we acting as the models that we’d like to be?

Now my intent is not to stress everyone out because we’re not perfect. No one is, myself included. Fortunately one of the other things we know about child development is that in order for an infant to truly learn something, they must see it (or hear) it many times over. So it’s not what we do all the time, but rather what we do most of the time that counts. We all have our moments.

As surprising as it can be when we see ourselves reflected through the words or actions of a young child, it’s also wonderful. Who doesn’t smile when they see and infant pick up a purse, wave and say “bye” or hold a baby doll to their chest as if trying to breastfeed. What a wonderful peek into the adults that they will become.

27 Jan 2011

The Importance of Social Development

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


1.1 Social Interest

  • preferring human faces to inanimate objects or animals
  • smiling at an adult
  • returning the gaze of an adult
  • seeking adults for play, stretching arms to be picked up
  • examining objects with others as a means of forming relationships
  • observing peers

Play with the infant on her physical level.

This tells her that you are available as a respectful partner in play.

First of all I have to say that I love the order in which the developmental domains are presented in the ELECT continuum. Social is first, followed by Emotional, then Communication/Language, Cognitive and Physical. I like that the Social and Emotional domains aren’t lumped together as they often are and I really appreciate that they come first in the continuum. I don’t know how the order of domains was decided but I like to believe that Social and Emotional were put first to remind us of their importance.

The relationships that we develop with young children are so important. One of the most significant tasks that we have as caregivers is to support infants and young children in developing healthy relationships. This isn’t something that we can plan for on a weekly programming sheet but developing secure and supportive relationships with the children in our care is what takes up most of our time and will form the basis for other learning experiences. Infants thrive when they feel safe and supported to explore and learn and develop at their own pace.

It is my hope that this part of the continuum will support caregivers in making the children’s learning visible to parents in these “harder to observe” domains. Also that caregivers will be able to take the words from the ELECT and use them in their conversations with parents to share their observations of the children’s development.

19 Jan 2011

Early Learning For Every Child Today

1 Comment ELECT

it’s a great document and could be effectively used as a framework for early childhood practices

Early Learning for Every Child Today or ELECT, as it is better known, is a document that was created a few years back by the Best Start Expert Panel on Early Learning, through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services here in Ontario. It is meant to be a framework for Early Childhood Settings within the province. Not all Early Childhood Educators (ECE) have had the opportunity to become familiar with the document, however, it is being passed around and professional development opportunities that center around the ELECT are starting to occur. I facilitated one such event this evening. It was a make and take workshop geared towards infant educators, however, it was enhanced in that we also included information on the ELECT and how to incorporate it’s framework into our practices.

Here’s the thing about the ELECT. It’s long, it’s about 110 pages and it’s not exactly light reading. However, I think it’s a great document and could be effectively used as a framework for early childhood practices. Still, my favorite part of the ELECT is tucked right in the middle. It’s a continuum of development. It’s broken down by age groups (which very smartly, overlap) and into the typically identified domains of development, Social, Emotional, Communication (Language and Literacy), Cognitive and Physical. What I’m really happy about is the way that they put this together, it’s written in simple to understand language, it’s easy to read and user friendly, it includes both indicators of the skills as well as sample interactions that would relate to the skill. The whole continuum is put together in a really open and inclusive way. Some skills, such as turn-taking are found in more than one domain, and none of the domains get more attention than the others. I also like that more specific ages weren’t applied to each of the skills, which I think recognizes the path that development follows, without so much emphasis on the “rat race” of development. I think it really values the interconnectedness of children’s development and definitely highlights the importance of supportive interactions and relationships between children and their caregivers.

Anyway, I said all of this to say, firstly, that if you’re in Ontario, or Canada, or anywhere really, you should check out the ELECT, because it’s great. And secondly, that I’m going to let the Elect motivate me on this blog. For the next little while anyway, I’m going to spend some time reflecting on the continuum within the ELECT and share my thoughts and ideas here. In this way, I hope that the ELECT can reach out and motivate or inspire other individuals who work with young children.

10 Aug 2009

How do you teach compassion?

No Comments Canadian ECE

Last week I broke from my usual routine to stop at the local Tim Horton’s for a coffee. There was a homeless man outside the store, holding out a cup for change. I met his eyes and said I would give him some money when I came out. When I said this his face lit up. I wondered if it was the promise of the change from my coffee that made him smile or simply the acknowledgment that he was there. On my way out I dropped in my change as promised and wished him a good day. As I walked away his smile stayed with me, and I’ve thought about it periodically since then.

This experience made me wonder- what do we teach children about compassion?

So many people have become cynical about charities and goodwill and I have to wonder if we are raising a generation with less instead of more compassion.

So many people have become cynical about charities and goodwill and I have to wonder if we are raising a generation with less instead of more compassion. Personally, I know that I’m not as generous or compassionate as I’d like to be. That morning I gave that man my change, but that’s not always the case. Working in a large city with a lot of needy people, you learn to avert your eyes. If the change is in my pocket, then I’ll probably give it, but if I have to get it out of my wallet, then usually I’ll just walk by. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but unfortunately it’s the truth.

We live in a country where the vast majority of us will go through our lives with all of our instrumental needs taken care of. Most of the children that we work with, won’t know what’s it’s like to go hungry or to not have a home. So, the question is, how do we talk to very young children about something that is so difficult for them to even imagine? If our hope is that in the future, no one will go hungry or die of thirst or have to live on the streets- then how do we raise this next generation to do something about that?

I don’t have the answer. In fact, I’m still formulating the questions, but I wanted to put it out there.

How do we teach the generous to be compassionate and to live to help others? Especially when we ourselves still struggle to do so?

A.N. I do realize that there are children that we will work with who may have experienced poverty and homelessness. This is why I think it’s so important that we are conscious of what we are doing to help.

29 Jul 2009

My Lifelong Journey of Learning

No Comments Canadian ECE

I want to learn and understand why children do the things they do

There is this misconception about Early Childhood Educators. People seem to think that the reason we work with young children is because we “like children.” Now that’s not to say that we don’t like children, but let’s face it, for the most part everyone likes children. That’s what keeps the human race going. Personally, I love children, but that’s not the reason I became an ECE.  Other people seem to think it’s  because we’re “good with children.” To be honest, I’m not even sure what people mean by that. What does it mean to be “good” with children. I sometimes feel like people say that when they really mean I know how to get kids to behave well or to do what they’re told.

I became an Early Childhood Educator because I believe in the importance of early learning and the significance of the early years. I became an ECE not because I like children (which I do) but because I am fascinated by them. When I think about the amount of learning and development that goes on in those first years I am absolutely amazed. In two short years we go from being tiny helpless creatures that can barely control the movements of our bodies and struggle to communicate our wants and needs to little individuals with personality who walk and talk and are constantly learning new things. When I think back to the past two years of my life, I’m sure I learned a few things, but nothing compared to the amount of growth and learning in those early years.

I like to think of myself as a lifelong learner. I’m always reading and talking to people, trying to expand my horizons in every aspect of my life. It’s no different in my journey as an Early Childhood Educator. I want to learn and understand why children do the things they do and how we can support them in the amazing journey of growth and development that they go through. Then, I want to share that with as many people as possible, because I want us all to be able to support our children as they learn and grow.

I hope that you will join me on my journey as I hopefully help the next generation to learn and grow and as I learn and grow alongside them.