Circle time is to early childhood education what homeroom is to high school. It is the starting point for the day, and oftentimes the only place children and teachers exchange information about their day. Felt character stories, songs, finger plays, show and tell, the calendar and most other important things of the day happen at circle time. As such, it is understandable that many ECE classrooms insist the children sit still in order to pay attention and participate during this time.
It has been argued that young children benefit from learning to sit criss-cross-applesauce, or on a dot, or in a circle. The thinking is as follows; children develop their attention spans by being very still during a song or story. The argument being that stillness is critical because children are seldom required to do so, and practicing stillness will develop that skill.
But what about the other children – the ones who are not required to sit still at circle time? How do they develop focus?
On a couple of recent hikes, I noticed how focused and determined the girls become. They have autonomy to try tackle challenging situations. In these instances, the girls were able to play, and naturally they focused when they faced relatively difficult tasks.
I’d argue that requiring preschool children to sit still on a spot for extended periods is a convenient AND an unnecessary common classroom practice.
In group settings, I prefer to allow toddlers and preschool-aged children the freedom to be comfortable. When we gather, I want them to sit so that can hear and see but if they’d like to lay down or sit in a chair or with their legs straight out in front of them instead of criss-cross so be it.
Focus develops when children are allotted the space and time to pursue their interests. So really, more than being required to sit still, children need to be allowed to play. Children need uninterrupted time to play and irresistible environments so that they can find genuine engagement. The focus will follow when they’re ready.
The outdoors are immeasurably valuable to young children’s growth and development. Developing a connection and awareness of nature and wildlife is a priority for my daughters’ childhood.
When my daughters and I go outdoors, I have no intentions for “education” to happen, though it always does.
This week the lesson was for me.
As Greysen and Moon (3 and 2 years old) age, I find myself occasionally reviewing the RIE Principles. These tenets were easier for me to see and understand when the girls were infants and toddlers, but now I find myself trying to figure out how I can support the development of an authentic childhood as they get older.
Last I looked at the list of characteristics of children who experience an authentic childhood as explained by RIE, the word “peaceful” jumped out at me. As infants, it was much easier for me to see how the children were serene, but now as toddlers? Let’s just say that when I think of my children, it is not in the top 10 list of words that come to mind. My children are great, active, enthusiastic, loving, curious, connected, conversational, and challenging – but peaceful?
Last week I kept asking myself how I could create the circumstances that would allow for my children to feel peaceful. In time, I realized that as we went about our regular days, they experienced this type of engagement regularly.
Just like me, Greysen and Moon were most peaceful when:
We were outside. There is something about being surrounded by natural beauty that young children connect with.
They have autonomy. When the girls had the opportunity to direct their own play, games, etc., they were peaceful. Peace in toddlerhood very often happens while children are engrossed.
They had regular periods of uninterrupted time to play. When the girls play they need a fair amount of time to get their play going or to just hang out.
In childhood, peace isn’t always serene or calm, though it absolutely can be. Greysen is absolutely joyful here, but I suspect that there could be peaceful feelings teeming underneath.
What does peaceful look like in the life of your toddler or young child?
Though incredibly simple, color-mixing is one of my favorite experiences to offer infants and toddlers.
Water in itself is wonderful because it is such a basic element that children are familiar with, yet are still fascinated by – I assume for its complex properties and seemingly unpredictable nature when splashed or spilled.
Even though this is color mixing, I do not see this as a lesson about learning colors. As I observed the girls playing, it became clear to me that their play was largely about consequence. That is, they were using materials as if they were asking themselves the question, “What will happen if …?”
This is not a novel activity for my daughters and is, in fact, something we have done a couple of times before. Even though this was a repeated experience, I did not make much effort to add a lot of novelty. As I’ve mentioned before, I intentionally repeat art experiences and activities, and this was no exception.
The one element I did change was to use red and blue watercolor instead of our usual yellow and blue experiences.
Each used the same squeeze bottles in ways which challenged them. Though both girls squeezed, Moon was focused on exploring concepts of pressure while Greysen was interested in quantity and how that correlated to the measurements on the outside of the bottle.
The results were more varied than I expected.
The next time we mix colors, we will use jars so that we can save the colors they mix to paint with. We ended up with a few random artifacts in the colors so we didn’t save any of them for later use this time.
I have a significant extended family. Big. To accommodate family gatherings, homes have been remodeled AND furniture is taken out so everyone has room to roam. One of the guaranteed highlights is seeing and visiting with the children. We all love to dote on the youngest and newest to our family.
As much as I look forward to seeing everyone, I’m also a little unsure of how to balance my daughters’ feelings and people’s eagerness to play with them.
Both my daughters (2 1/2 and 17 months) are, for their own reasons, currently tentative when greeting people. They have not always been, so this will be a holiday unlike others.
Most people understand and are kind, but sometimes people say things either about the girls or themselves that is unnecessary. So, to try to respect my daughters’ feelings and demonstrate the love we have for our family, I’m going to focus on a couple of things to help us all enjoy this holiday.
No one will hold my child without her permission.
My family loves my daughters. I know how much they mean to them. On the other hand, my daughters may not be ready or interested in getting to know some family under these often loud circumstances. So, I kindly explain that she’s at that age where she needs to stay close to one of us, her parents.
I expect that these relatives will have a relationship with her in time. For many, there is something special about getting to hold someone else’s baby, but I’ll have to hold my ground.
When adults say “hello,” my older toddler is not willing to respond in kind and she won’t have to.
I have found that when she instead greets people by sharing a story or very recent memory that she is more eager to talk to others, so that’s how I’m expecting us to say “hi” when she’s ready.
How do you negotiate your children’s reactions to unfamiliar people at the holidays?
Sometimes when infants start to roll over, diaper changes become . . . quicker. It can also be said that they become more challenging. When infants learn to roll over, and especially after they learn to crawl, they can be eager to do so every moment that they are able to. In my experience, many infants do not consider a diaper change a justifiable reason to lie still.
When Moon’s right foot starts to push against the floor and her pelvis starts to turn, followed by her twisting torso, I sometimes have the urge to grab her body and turn her back. Sometimes when she twists, I wish and may even plead, “Can we work together to get this diaper changed?” Sometimes, just sometimes, I get caught up in finishing my job of getting through her diaper change, to snap it on so that I can get back to what it was I was doing before. When I finish this kind of diaper change on my own, that’s how I feel – on my own.
When I treat a diaper change like a chore, it certainly feels like one. Crossing this task off my mental to-do list leaves me feeling disconnected from my daughter, who I treated as the recipient of a diaper change rather than a partner.
When I am able to be present and mindful, I respond to her differently. Sometimes, when my daughter twists and turns during her diaper change, I’ll just go ahead and stop. I look to see what she is interested in and why she is reaching. Sometimes as she turns to try and stand or sit, I honor her capabilities and change her diaper in the position she is most comfortable in rather than the one that is most convenient to me.
More times than I want to admit to, I have to repress an urge to turn her around – to keep her on her back just to snap a diaper that I can snap almost as easily as she sits or stands. Often, however, I will follow her lead. I set aside my agenda of changing a diaper for a moment to acknowledge her experience. By pausing to comment on Moon’s object of focus, I am trying to validate her interests, however fleeting, and thus ultimately prioritizing who my daughter is over the need to complete a task.
The following are the just a few of the steps detailed by Magda Gerber regarding respectful care that I try to keep in mind when changing my daughter’s diaper.
Ways To Partner Through Diaper Changes Describe each thing you are going to do before doing it. For us, this begins when I tell my daughter that she needs a diaper change. She is becoming responsive and going to the diaper changing area on her own. As I take her diaper off, I tell her what I’m doing. Since this is something we have done for a while, and was admittedly easier to do when she laid very still, she is used to the routine and understands.
Encourage the child to participate in whatever way possible. As young infants, children may just be listening to your descriptions, but with time and consistency they are able to help by pulling their own diapers off or lifting their legs to help.
If the child becomes distracted or disinterested, acknowledge what has caught her or his attention. If she begins to look at her hands or in the direction of a sudden noise, I’ll tell her that I heard it too.
Move at a pace that the child can respond to. This is the toughest for me. When my daughter is trying to crawl away, I am eager to work fast to get that diaper on. When I respond to her movements in a way that gives her time to participate, I am giving her a chance to learn from this experience and to cooperate, which can sometimes be a struggle.
Changing diapers can be a time when we try to distract or cajole children into cooperation so that we can get the job done, or it can be an exercise in developing our children’s sense of self. When we can take the time to convey respect for the child’s interests by working with them to change a diaper, we can show our children the respect we have for them.
Last week, we went on a hike with a few friends. While we were getting ready to start our walk, a couple of children played nearby, greeting each other and chatting. A friend offhandedly mentioned that her son ” . . . is an observer” after he declined an invitation to play with a stick my daughter offered him.
In infancy, being observant is considered a desirable trait. Children are lauded for taking notice of the world around them. As they grow and become capable of taking more action, our expectations of them change. Being observant and watching becomes less praised and, even less often, fostered.
As as teacher/student, I have had entire assignments dedicated to teaching us adults how to observe. Books, articles, tips, and handouts have been written to assist me in learning to do something that once came naturally to me – observation.
Observation is a state of quiet and focused attention that cannot occur when the mind is in motion. The less you do, the more you observe. Start with a calm peaceful atmosphere and let your mind tune into the present. Clear your head. Let all your senses awaken. rid yourself of preconceived notions. To observe means to be open and detached so you can see the situations more clearly. An observer must quiet down and let go of prejudices.” – Your Self-Confident Baby (Gerber & Johnson)
I was thinking about this as I watched Greysen and a group of her friends go on a walk that day. My mission: look for natural materials that we can collect and use as play things at home. Greysen’s mission? It turns out that she had many. Only one (the food related one) I could have predicted.
If I had articulated my plan of looking for rocks, to her maybe she would have found more rocks. I also could have probably thrown in some comments about weight, size, texture, or any number of interesting attributes that would have made great emergent lessons in math.
Instead, I walked. I listened. I watched. Sometimes I responded to the observations she was making. In addition to learning more about rocks (a current interest of hers), she also experienced some lessons in trails, negotiation of scarce resources (AKA snacks), and balance. Fantastic and interesting lessons in math were lost, but time to revel in observation was preserved.
I’m grateful for the freedom to support Greysen and Moon’s learning in the manner of my choosing. If, however, I needed to organize their learning to achieve specific outcomes, as may schools who have state curriculums to follow do, I would have likely chosen a top-down approach to our learning experience.
Teaching Greysen about rocks would not have given her the same information that she has learned by picking them up, walking over them, tossing, and touching them. Observations and experiences have taught her lessons that I would have overlooked. For instance, Greysen said that the rock was hot from the sun. By catching that one observation, I now know that Greysen has some understanding of the sun’s ability to radiate heat. The heat warms the earth, and thus the rock in her hand.
Sometimes the most important lesson is the one you refrain from teaching. What started as a walk full of potential lessons for my daughter also became a lesson for me. The time to observe and the space to experience life in the way that comes naturally to children is as valuable as all the information we hope to share.
Do you think there are other valuable skills besides observation that young children are strong in but that we need to work at maintaining as we age?
Today, Greysen and I left the park side-by-side in conversation.
What’s to take note of, you ask? Leaving anywhere enjoyable can be of the utmost disappointment to Greysen.
A couple of months ago as I relayed to Greysen one morning that we would be leaving the park, she gave me a passionate “no” using her voice and body language. To escape our conversation, she started to walk up the spiral slide. After waiting for a brief period of time, I told her that I’d help her and that it was time to go as I had already let her know. So, I picked her up.
As much as I feel supported in my parenting by my fellow moms, I can’t help but feel my face flush from her screams, and my awkward attempts to kindly but firmly help this flailing human being follow through. I spoke calmly as I carried her to the car, but she cried the whole time.
Though I felt I had done my best, I felt very self-aware. In the very least, I questioned what else I could be doing to ease this transition from playground to home. Our friends watched as I tried to follow through without promises of easing her disappointment.
Leaving the park never involves the use of ultimatums, bribes, or threats. Yes, I absolutely think Greysen would have hopped right into the car had I offered her a snack, but I do not consider that a reasonable tool because it does not help her develop the skills she needs to learn to cooperate and cope with feelings of disappointment or frustration.
Guiding and supporting Greysen as she matures and grows is a challenging and often attention-grabbing role. I’m now becoming accustomed to this role, of being questioned and questioning myself as I learn who I am as a parent, as well as who she is.
I understand her perspective that leaving the park is disappointing. As I allow my daughter to lap in the emotion that certainly seems to come over her like a tidal wave, I’m providing an emphatic and consistent response that I expect in time to help her wade through these very overwhelming emotions.
To help her move through these feelings when we move from one place to another, I try to do the following:
Preparing her to leave. A verbal warning, meaning I simply tell her that we are going soon.
Waiting for a good time. If there is no natural break in her play, I have on occasion we used a timer as a reminder. When the timer rings, she is more often than not ready to go.
Being playful and using humor.
Finding the next thing to look forward to. This is distinct from bribing. “We are going home for lunch. Would you like to help cut some grapes for Moon when we get home?”
Validating her feelings. This was the one key element that I was missing that day at the park, but happened to come home and read this on Janet Lansbury’s blog. The following day we went to the park again. I confirmed her feelings, telling her that I understood that she was disappointed we were leaving, but that her sister needed to sleep. She was still hugely saddened by our leaving, but this additional step gave me the confidence that I was doing all I could to help her.
Following through and being firm if need be. Balancing the transition by allowing her time to adjust to the idea of leaving, but not drawing the departure out.
Do you have any other steps that help your child move through their day? I’d love to hear about them.
I am incapable of not having an opinion when it comes to toys or child-related equipment. From gadgets meant to help feeding infants to balls, I have my favorites and NOT-so-favorites.
One of the main aspects of my former job was to justify every purchase we made for the children. When it came to purchasing equipment for the classrooms, we always needed to make sure that the item was in-line with our program’s philosophy.
I’m grateful for having developed this habit and way of thinking that automatically evaluates products as I see them, especially now as a parent. Products come in and out of our home as gifts, donations, and of course by choice/purchase.
Many popular child-oriented products are not used in our home because I consider some products to be unnecessary. The Bumbo seat is one of those products. I consider the seat to interfere, unnecessarily so, with children’s natural development.
Over the last holiday, I came to realize that of the all of the seven children (age three and younger) at my family’s home but two (my two) had been sat in a Bumbo seat. Can this product be that popular?
I do not consider the Bumbo seat to be useful product however given its marketing and placement, I can imagine how it could be perceived as such. The large baby gear stores and chain retailers are packed to the hilt with products promising to make caring for your child easier, thus making you and your child happier. The Bumbo seat is at the forefront of this type of product.
Promising to be the extra pair of hands you will almost always need, Bumbo seats are giving you what they think your child wants – to sit so that she can see. Sure, your child is happier when he can see you. Your baby wants to see you and the world around them. The important question here is – is this the best way for your baby to learn to see you?Being seated may support your child in seeing you and all else around them, but it does so without relaying on any competencies of the child. I expect being seated can also evolve into a dependence on the need and desire to be sat up to see rather than learning to use a baby’s own skills and strengths to see on her own.
I listened intently as one mother explained that her son learned to sit because she worked on it with him by sitting him in the Bumbo. I agreed – it probably did contribute to his being able to sit. What would his trajectory have been without the involvement of the seat? At 2 years old now, I think back about how little his being able to sit at 5 months and my daughter (who sat some time in her first year) affects their physical competencies now.
How old was Greysen when she started sitting, I ask Mike. He kids, “two months,” and laughs. The joke is, we don’t remember, but it’s not because we don’t care. I’m sure we took photos, as any parent does. Greysen and Moon are typically developing children, so we are not tracking their development for any purpose other than fond memories. We don’t see the need to take note of something that is as it should be – she’s a work in progress and a finished piece all at once.
Using the Bumbo seatto teach your child to sit is conveying the message that learning to sit on your own, in your own time, is not enough. These actions also reflect a lack of trust that a baby’s physical development will evolve on its own. Paradoxically, by keeping an infant snuggly seated, a child loses the invaluable ability to move freely – the very thing she needs to learn to sit – in her own way, in her own time.
What’s the real appeal? Is it that we, as parents, are searching for ways, any way, to have an extra set of hands, or is it that we want our children to develop as quick as we can get them to? Or, is it that in our consumerist culture, the market for infant-oriented products is so much in demand that the next best thing to make your child smarter or better is always being sought after?
Regardless of the reasons parents may use the Bumbo seat, which are likely more complex than the several I have suggested, I think the thing I’d caution parents of the most to beware is: question any blanket promises made by products that claim to make you a happier parent. That comes from within.
Infant/toddler center-based care is an uncommon occurrence. I worked for many years in a group care setting with children ages three months to three years. This age range was, and is, uncommon because the state (California) discourages it. It was only through a loophole and a signed physician’s note that we were able to care for infants and toddlers concurrently in one room. For those of you less familiar with center-based care, infants are most often group by birth year, so zero to one, one to two, two to three… Well, you get the picture.
Why the hurdles to keep infants and toddlers apart? From my conversations with parents over the years, my best guess is that it’s based on fears. More specifically, fear of the toddler. Not any one particular toddler, of course, but the idea of toddlers being mixed in with the younger children. That wonderfully fast, three-foot tall person who loves to spin in circles sometimes without regard for surrounding objects (or some archetypical version of this toddler spirit) can be a bit scary when your own child isn’t yet completely mobile and thus not able to easily stay out of a toddler’s path.
The fact is, infants and toddlers do coexist in families, extended families, and through friendships. To isolate an age or stage circumvents plenteous opportunities for children to learn from and play with someone who has so much to teach.
My daughters are fifteen months apart (fourteen months and a day). When I am out with the two of them, I have heard all sorts of comments, ranging from empathy, to surprise, and lots of encouragement. At first, I felt as though I had joined some parent subculture that I was not aware of.
Whether in group settings like the one I worked in, with 12 children in one room, or in a home, infants and toddlers have so much to learn from one another, and I in both my role as parent and educator am learning quite a few things as well.
The Idea of the Toddler
In my home, older sister loves younger sister and vice-versa, BUT even in the best of times expressing that love in a safe way is more than challenging for an affectionate toddler and a curious infant. Relationships between infants and toddlers differ than relationships between same-age children or children born farther apart because of their sometimes limited ability to verbally communicate with one another, as well as their different physical abilities.
Though Greysen is very communicative verbally, she is an active toddler who prefers to interact with others physically. She is a regular perpetrator of the “hug and fall.” Her affections are no less demonstrative towards her sister (who is 10 months old as of this writing).
Even in the most generous and loving of moments, Greysen’s need for physical contact and movement can be at Moon’s expense (there are also many moments of acting on impulse that result in unhappy moments, but that is not the subject here). My aim, as was my aim in group care, is to help facilitate and foster positive interaction over time between children.
Mike and I often think about the relationship between the two girls, as it has the potential to be the longest relationship in both of their lives. I want to encourage this relationship as often as I can, but at 25 months, Greysen is eager to play with her sister in ways that are more often pleasing to her than to her sister. This is my challenge. The tumble at the end of this video is of the best case scenario.
I have no doubt that there are countless ways to foster sisterly behaviors between my daughters, but there are a few things that I keep at the forefront of this long term effort that I’ll mention here.
I try to create an environment that encourages interaction. I think most about the Reggio Emilia concept of transparency. The idea is that, as educators, our efforts should be truthful and more than accessible to our community. As a parent, I make a very tangible effort to create spaces that beg for a play partner. Setting up play spaces like this one, where looking through something and most likely to someone, increases the likelihood that the girls will interact without my involvement. I’ve also set this up with one child on each side. The girls also sit across from each other at the dinner table rather than next to each other for the same reason.
I offer play materials in ways which increase the likelihood of interaction. Even though they use materials in different ways, infants and toddlers are capable of negotiating space and materials. While sharing is an unfair expectation for children at this stage, infants and toddlers can most often competently and safely hash out the use of materials on their own. At this age, ownership does not mean what it does to us as adults. By offering one big block of clay instead of two individual pieces, my daughters can work side by side and have a shared experience.
Knowing when not to facilitate is not always easy for me to determine. I look to both of my daughters’ cues to determine whether or not my interveningwill have a positive impact on their play. More often than not, they are capable of working things out between themselves. If I ever feel concerned for either of their safety, I am prepared to step in. A well-meaning acquaintance recently asked, “Are you okay with that,” referring to the way in which the girls were playing. I was OK with the way they tumbled a bit because they were. When I intervene depends on their reaction and comfort level. Though Moon is still an infant, she is strong and, in the instance below, is gleeful with her sister even though Greysen is mostly on top of her.
Playing peek-a-boo games helps Greysen interact with her sister in a way they can both enjoy.
Creating positive experiences between my daughters is a higher priority to me right now than other parenting practices that I highly value. I wholeheartedly believe in Magda Gerber’s principles regarding gross motor development, and specifically not placing children in positions that they can not get out of. I have more conversations regarding this with parents than most any other parenting practice. However, for me there are occasions (namely this one) when my parenting principles take a back seat to positive shared experiences between my daughters. Even though Moon can not climb into the swing on her own, the fun the two have swinging together trumps my parenting beliefs regarding gross motor development. Don’t let the fact that they can not easily see each other lead you to think that they do not interact. They are completely aware of each others’ presence and often twist around to share a giggle. My appreciation for this type of safe interaction on days when unsafe pokes or pinches seem to peak is indescribable.
Infants and toddlers can and, in my home, do co-exist. No, it is not always harmonious, but the same is true for most genuine relationships. Fostering relationships between very young children with differing capabilities may seem unsafe for the infant. However, toddlers – when supported in developing self-awareness – learn to step around infants, skip safely (sometimes miraculously) over tiny fingers, and may also show interest in caring for one another.
Typically, developing infants are also strong and capable of indicating their interests and discomforts, often without adult intervention. Our responsiveness to these often fleeting shared moments of play can either culminate in an authentic relationship or eliminate one. I believe that it is both the infant’s and the toddler’s right to experience relationships under a wide range of circumstances. While my priority is of course the protection of my infant’s physical well being her play also needs protection. To experience moments brimming with joy to moments charged with negotiation, are invaluable to the development of her relationship not just with her sister but to her future relationships as well.
Creating circumstances that lead to shared experiences is challenging for me (thus the exception of using a playground swing). If you have a favorite way to get your children to play together or have suggestions for me, I would love to hear them and try them out.
The moniker “plastic egg” gives no indication of the value of this hand held open-ended treasure.
Before they become known as candy capsules to my toddler and infant, these marvelous plastic egg-shaped containers are simply open-ended play things.
Instead of holiday-themed play, we reveled in using these small containers as just that – containers.
In some of our play provocations, you’ll notice that I tried to keep the eggs to one color to minimize unnecessary distraction so that the play itself would take center stage. The eggs themselves, of course, were not overlooked. After having some time to use the eggs without any prompts or other props, the girls (24 months & 9 months) were ready to use them in a variety of ways.
I filled them with several things around the house for Greysen to discover. Without suggestion, she opened the eggs, and was thrilled to find the everyday things inside.
Sensory Play Accessory
Inspired by this play with eggs and rice here, I set the eggs alongside some cornmeal and spoons. Again, no directions. Greysen and her cousin J spent more than half an hour filling these containers, struggling to close them, only to empty them and start all over. Moon was more involved with the cornmeal than the eggs at this point.
I prepared four eggs shakers for Moon to encounter. Each egg was filled with varying amounts of dried beans for her to explore the concept of sound. Based on Dr. Montessori’s principle of isolating one factor, in this case sound, I kept all the other variables constant. That is, these eggs were all yellow, and were all filled with the same material – dry beans. That concept, coupled with RIE’s practice of giving infants toys without mysterious mechanisms that they can not see, is why I chose to use translucent eggs for her shakers.
I also taped them so that the contents wouldn’t be changed by our resident toddler, Greysen.
These did not turn out as visually appealing as I had envisioned, but they were shaken no less for it . . . I think.
These six eggs were filled in pairs with three different types of things. The pairs included things I had on hand – bells, necklaces, and walnuts. Greysen shook an egg, and I prompted her to keep shaking the other eggs one at a time to look for its matching sound counterpart. She was as pleased as she looks to find each match.
Based on her guessing experiences, she easily identified the contents.
We first tried this Montessori-inspired transferring activity at the preschool our moms group sets up. Greysen was not yet ready at the time we first started doing it, so I have been eager to try this now that she is a bit older. The tongs were a bit too long, but she was up to the challenge. She persisted in this until she filled the crate. The full crate inspired her to crack the eggs and start cooking. I love when one idea seamlessly leads to the next.
For some more open-ended ways to present plastic eggs check these ideas out: