Sunday, June 6, 2010

Educating the Very Young: A Teacher's Perspective on Providing Educational Home Care for Children 12-18 Months

As I was perusing other child care service blogs today, I was excited to see the wealth of craft activity ideas available. Now that my son is 20 months old, I feel that he is nearing an exciting period of development. His world is opening up to a much larger variety of activity options. I'm talking about things such as colouring, painting, crafts, cooking/baking, playdough, and other activities that require a higher level of motor, language and intellectual ability. Don't get me wrong, since he was approximately a year old, we have been attempting such activities on a regular basis. It is just that the potential to fully appreciate and enjoy these activities is limited at such a young age. Even now, colouring lasts 5 minutes tops before his attention span wanders.

In my family daycare, I do believe it is important to give the children a taste of these activities, even as early as 12 months old. But to what extent can they take part in these activities? What, as parents or caregivers, can we do to encourage them and help them learn? What activities can the 12-18-month-old really enjoy and grow from? Here are some tips from what I have learned working with this age group over the past year.

Singing to children throughout the day can provide a joyful milieu; and a happy environment, in my opinion, is optimal for learning. Music is a fun, less complicated way to learn language. Most importantly, language is more memorable when presented in song form.(

Pairing words in music with actions or pictures can help to enhance the understanding of language. There are many action songs that the children love and request. In fact, even with minimal language abilities at 12 months, it was often clear that a child was singing a particular song by his gestures. With the sounds he was uttering alone, I would not know this. I would join him in singing the song and his face would light up.We were communicating! Performing actions for songs gives pictures for words, which not only provides meaning but also makes words even that much more memorable.

I feel it absolutely crucial to get children comfortable with books at an early age. Having taught grades 3-6, I have encountered children who seemed threatened by books. By this age, there is a fair amount of print per page in what they are expected to read, and if their reading ability isn't up to par, it can feel overwhelming to them; even hopeless. Although their poor reading skills could in part have been exacerbated by learning disabilities (in some cases), the lack of literature in their everyday lives, in my view, was the real culprit. Reading is something that MUST be valued at home.  This is one area that cannot be left merely to a child's teacher to teach. It is too dense and too complicated, and cannot be viewed as something to be learned in isolation. It has to be integral to their everyday lives.

Long before children understand print, it is important for them to be able to relate to the pictures they see in books. If you are enthusiastic and excited about what you are reading to them, they will be too, in time. I have one child in my care who is always on the go. At about 1 year of age, he would not sit down to listen to me read  a book. Instead, he chose to move around the room, busy in his 'baby work'. Yet, he would still 'drop by' from time to time, to catch a glimpse of what I was reading.

My son, on the other hand, may have sat still, but his mind also wandered. His eyes were often roaming the room, rather than directed to the book I was reading. Similar to the other child though, his eyes would return to the book from time to time.

At 12 months, I consider each of these responses to be a success! My job is to entice them to listen to books, not force them. As we would read an reread books in the following days and weeks, they began to listen more. The one child would 'drop by' for longer periods of time. My son's eyes would wander less. They were becoming familiar with many of the books, and realizing that this was a worthwhile and fun activity. 

The time they enjoyed (and I believe still enjoy) being read to most was during snacks or meals in their highchairs. I laugh as I write this, since it would appear that I am forcing them to listen to me read! But think about it. They are there enjoying their snack anyway. They've got no other plans, so to speak. The worst they could do, if they are not interested, is to tune me out. What I most often hear, though, after I've finished a book, is "Mo bu" (more books), as they point to the book shelf.

I have to note that their favourite books around this 1-year-old mark were Helen Oxenbury's "Clap Hands", "Tickle, Tickle" and "All Fall Down". They are so simple and short, that young toddlers can actually sit and listen to a whole book without wandering off.

I would recommend not even attempting this until 15 months. Even at this age, they seem to prefer to use the playdough in two ways; eating it or breaking it into a million little pieces. Still, it's nice to introduce it to them, even if the activity only lasts a few minutes.

At 17 months they seem to get some enjoyment by just holding and squishing it. At this stage I like to model things they can do with the playdough. Make a ball or a snake for them, and they start to understand how it can be used to create things.

This too, is something they often tire from within a few minutes. Actually, because they are limited in their ability to write, they often prefer the activity of taking the crayons out, and putting them back into a container. Markers are easiest for them to colour with, since it takes little pressure on paper to produce a result.

These are important activities to develop fine motor skills (manipulation of things with hands), but sometimes the kids would become easily frustrated when they could not get a puzzle piece in immediately. I find that it encourages them if you place the puzzle piece so that it is almost in. All they have to do is touch it and it falls into place. Then you can gradually help them less until their frustration tolerance increases. (Many of you in the teaching world already know this as 'scaffolding'.)

They often engaged in the activitiy of taking objects out of a container, and/or putting them back in. Or, they would take all the books off the shelf (and might or might not put them back!) Another favourite activity was taking lids off, and putting them back on (the pots and pans, for example).

There are many other activities besides this that interest them, and there are many other activities which may be encouraged to help them grow. These are just a few of the main categories that I have touched on. I welcome any advice or suggestions about appropriate or helpful activities for this general age group.

This was mainly a way for me to reflect on the past while. As my son and one of the other children in my care are older than this now, I am looking ahead to new activities I can introduce to them. I am really astounded at how children open up developmentally, like little flowers. They can change so much within a month, week, and even sometimes in a matter of days! It's pretty amazing to see, and I get to see it happening up close!