Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse, Parenting

You Are What Your Child Needs

Parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers often describe moments when they are watching, waiting, wondering, and worrying about their young children. They wonder whether their fussy baby is getting enough sleep or worry about whether their picky toddler is eating enough fruit and vegetables. They may find it hard to wait for a child to begin to crawl or talk and wonder about when their child may reach this milestone.

The love that parents and caregivers of young children feel for their rapidly changing infants and toddlers may be part of the reason this worrying and wondering begins. Parents and caregivers want to give infants and toddlers the best start they can. It is normal to worry whether they have enough resources or knowledge to help their child reach their fullest potential. They may wonder whether having more books, more toys, or signing their child up for more classes is what their child needs to grow and thrive. They may spend time worrying and wondering whether they are giving their child enough. This worry can lead to discouragement and feelings of inadequacy as a parent or caregiver. They may wonder: “Am I what my child needs?”

Each child in early intervention develops on a unique timeline. Early intervention families may find themselves worrying or wondering about whether their child is doing okay as they watch their child and wait for their child to reach particular milestones or skills. It can be difficult to avoid comparing your child’s progress to those of infants and toddlers who do not have a developmental delay or disability. This comparison can cause even more worry, which can be overwhelming.

In these moments, it is important to remember that you are what your child needs. He needs a loving caregiver who wants to help him grow. Every time you interact with your child by talking, playing, and doing daily tasks, you are building your child’s brain and helping his body become stronger and more skillful. You also are not alone. Reach out to your EI team, family, and friends for support and help.

Remember as a parent or primary caregiver, you have the most interactions and opportunities to watch your child discover her world. Share your observations and the things you wonder about with your EI team.

Sometimes you will need to wait to connect with an EI team member until the next EI session. While you wait, you can write down, video, or photograph the behaviors or skills you are wondering about.

Reaching out to your EI team can help you set aside worries about whether you are giving your child all that he needs. Remember, you are what your child needs! Involved, caring parents and caregivers working with their EI team to achieve outcomes give children a strong start.

Originally written for the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Newsletter: https://eiclearinghouse.org/newsletter/2018spring/

Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse, Parenting

Positive Talk Builds Confidence

Babies and toddlers tune into messages from their caregivers. They are aware of their caregivers’ emotions and listen to their words. Because very young children are deeply connected with and tuned into their caregivers, it is vital that parents and caregivers be mindful about sharing messages that are a source of encouragement and positive energy.

Turning “don’t climb on the coffee table!” into “let’s go find a safe place in the back yard for you to climb” or turning “stop screaming!” into “I hear you’re angry when I tell you there’s no more cereal” can help caregivers feel calmer. Young children also follow positive directions more readily than negative discouragements.

Positive talk is not only beneficial for babies and toddlers. Positive talk and positive thinking also are important for parents and caregivers of children receiving early intervention services. Negativity can rear its ugly head when we are feeling discouraged or feeling impatient. Families in early intervention may be coping with their child’s complex medical or educational needs. Their development may not follow the typical progression of peers their age. This can lead to a negative cycle of thinking that gets in the way of noticing the important progress an infant or toddler is making in early intervention.

We can mindfully acknowledge these negative thoughts and reframe them with positive thinking, which can help us keep a positive attitude as we work toward EI outcomes. Reframing doesn’t make our sadness or frustration go away, but it can help us be more resilient and optimistic about the challenges we face with our child.

Here are a few examples of reframing negative thoughts into more positive ones.

When you think “my child can’t hear my voice due to hearing loss,” reframe it by thinking, “I know I am connecting with my child when we look into each other’s eyes.”

“My toddler cries and falls apart because he can’t use words to tell me what he wants” can become “we’re working on learning important words in sign language to help him communicate.”

“My friends are celebrating their babies’ first steps, but my child can’t walk” can become “Let’s enjoy my child’s new crawling skills by trying to climb on a pile of pillows to help build her muscles.”

Originally written for the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Newsletter: https://eiclearinghouse.org/newsletter/2018spring/

Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse, Parenting

Set Me Up for Success!

The Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse has a new tip sheet called, “Set Me Up for Success!”. It is located here: https://eiclearinghouse.org/einotes/setup-success/.

Set Me Up for Success!

Families reach EI outcomes by making the most of everyday moments. In early intervention (EI), we focus on how children learn during everyday routines. Caregivers can help children successfully participate by encouraging infants and toddlers to be active participants throughout the day. As a caregiver, you can:

Take Turns With Your Child

  • You do, I do! Wet a washcloth and let your child take a turn wiping his own face.
  • Wait for a response and help your child learn the routine. For example, say “so big” and wait for your child to hold her arms up over her head or help her hold her arms up.
  • Take turns stacking blocks or throwing bean bags or rolled-up socks into a basket.

Match and Follow Your Child

  • Notice where your child is looking or turn your head toward the sound your child is reacting to.
  • Respond to your child’s feelings by naming emotions such as sad, happy, and mad.
  • Copy your child’s action or sound. Wave your hand back at her wave or clap along with your child.

Challenge Your Child

  • Give your child safe and interesting objects and toys to explore. She may enjoy banging on pots or looking through a transparent cup.
  • Add to routines. Sing a new toothbrushing song, let your child fill and empty a laundry basket while you fold clothes, or play peekaboo with a towel during bathtime.
  • Present “dilemmas” for the child to solve, such as hiding a toy in a box and encouraging your child to find it or putting a favorite toy further away to encourage her to pull up and reach for it.

Get in Place to Connect

  • Position a nonmobile child so he can hear and see well.
  • Physically support your child to allow interaction by using pillows or your hands.
  • Use all of your spaces, such as a blanket on the floor, a grassy patch, or playground as places for interactions.
Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse, Parenting

New Tip Sheet Series: Everyday Early Intervention

The staff of the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse has started to work on a new series of Tip Sheets called, “Everyday Early Intervention.” The first in the series is called “Couch Time.” We hope that families find these to be practical and useful suggestions for integrating EI Outcomes into everyday routines. Find the tip sheet here: https://eiclearinghouse.org/einotes/couchtime/.

Everyday Early Intervention: Couch Time

Many families enjoy spending time relaxing on the couch together. The couch can be a great place to sit together to talk, read, and play.  Moments on the couch can also be times to work on early intervention outcomes. Here are some ideas to help you fit learning and development goals into everyday routines.

Climb a Couch Cushion Mountain

Stack two or three couch cushions or pillows and encourage your child to use his arms and legs to climb up the mountain. Reaching and climbing strengthens large muscles. As your child grows stronger, add another cushion to the stack for a bigger climb or encourage your toddler to build the stack.

Cruise and Play

Encourage the large muscle development of infants and toddlers that are not quite walking by encouraging them to cruise the lengths of the couch. Take the cushions off your couch and place favorite toys toward the back. This will encourage a child to pull herself up to stand and reach toward the back of the couch to get to the toys.

Build a Blanket Fort

Stretch a blanket or sheet between your couch cushions and chairs to create a blanket fort. Crawl in and out of the fort to work on large muscle development. Talk together about who is inside or outside the fort and how the blanket makes a little house. Using words such as on, in, out, and under builds children’s spatial vocabulary and conceptual knowledge.

Snuggle Up and Read

Keep a basket of books near the couch so you always have something for story time. Reading to young children is essential for building their language skills and conceptual knowledge. Read favorite books again and again. Encourage your child to point to the pictures as you read by asking questions such as “Where is the brown doggy?”

 

Early Childhood Education, Early Learning, Illinois Early Learning Project

Five Things Children Gain from Puzzle Play

Puzzles are a classic toy for young children. They come in a variety of types, materials, and levels of difficulty. Even infants may explore simple puzzles that involve fitting two pieces together. Puzzles are available with increasing complexity to challenge children as they grow. There are many life tasks that we do daily that are similar to puzzles. For example, fitting items into a box or bag is similar to fitting puzzle pieces into a puzzle form.

Puzzle play is a great time to build cognitive and fine motor skills, but it can also be a time to build social, emotional, and language skills when caregivers use time with puzzles thoughtfully. Here are five things children learn through puzzle play:

  • Spatial vocabulary: Use words such as turn, flip, and rotate when you are coaching children to fit puzzle pieces together. Children also learn words such as above, below, and beside when they describe the position of puzzle pieces in relation to each other.
  • Sequencing: There are some puzzles in which the sequence the pieces are put together is important. Children hear and learn ordinal numbers and words that indicate relative position in a sequence, such as first, second, third, and last. Children can also be encouraged to retell the sequence in which they put the pieces together to further develop their understanding of sequencing.
  • Problem-solving: Children learn to work through a problem and reach a solution as they fit the pieces together. They may need to learn to set aside the piece they hope to put in the puzzle while searching for one that fits in the spot they need. They also may learn there are multiple paths to the puzzle’s completion as they do a puzzle over and over. When they work on puzzles with peers, they also describe their strategies to one another and work through difficulties collaboratively.
  • Task completion and persistence: The process of putting together a puzzle has a finite end when the puzzle is solved. Children encounter frustration when they cannot easily solve a puzzle, and when they work through these emotions, they enjoy the success of task completion. Working through these feelings helps children develop persistence, or the ability to keep going in the face of difficulty.
  • Fine motor and hand-eye coordination: Children refine their fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills as they manipulate puzzle pieces to put the puzzle together. They develop the small muscles in their hand that allow them to grasp and move puzzle pieces with precision.

Older infants and young toddlers may enjoy knobbed puzzles that are easy to grasp. First, children may find success with puzzles that have one piece for each image. For example, a puzzle of animals might have cat, dog, and bird pieces that each fit in their own spot. Then, as toddlers and preschoolers become more skillful, they may try “tray puzzles” with multiple pieces fitting together to make a single picture. As toddlers and preschoolers grow, they may start to enjoy trying jigsaw puzzles and more complex tray puzzles. Three-dimensional puzzles, such as stacking rings or a nesting cup, also challenge their skills and thinking.

Young children need access to puzzles that are the correct level of difficulty for their current developmental stage to benefit from puzzle play. They should have access to puzzles that they can do independently. This allows children the chance to build their small muscles, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving strategies through repeated practice. They enjoy the feeling of accomplishing a task on their own as they put the puzzles together and take them apart. It is helpful to keep these puzzles in a place where children can access and clean them up independently. Rotating the selection of puzzles will help maintain their interest.

Children should also have access to puzzles that are a little bit challenging. Working on puzzles that are a little too hard to complete independently is a great time for young children to work with peers and caregivers to build new strategies for solving puzzles. Puzzles that are much too difficult may be a source of frustration for children and their caregivers. Young children may dump the pieces and mix multiple puzzles together because they have a difficult time engaging with puzzles that are too hard. Caregivers and teachers may wish to keep the majority of these more challenging puzzles in a location where children can access them with assistance and a smaller, rotating selection available so children are encouraged to build their skills with assistance.

Written for the Illinois Early Learning Project: https://illinoisearlylearning.org/blogs/growing/puzzle-play/

 

Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse, Parenting

Build Skills While Exploring Outdoors

 

Warm weather means it is a great time to explore the outdoors. Outside play is a wonderful opportunity to work on early intervention (EI) outcomes. Talk with your EI team about strategies and activities that may be especially useful for your family as you work on your EI outcomes. As you talk, you can brainstorm how everyday activities can become opportunities to practice new skills.

For example, consider the fun warm weather pastime of blowing bubbles. Infants and toddlers love to see bubbles magically fly from a bubble wand. Did you know that when you are blowing bubbles you are working on many skills, including:

  • Oral motor skills: Blowing bubbles develops the small muscles in your child’s mouth as they pucker their lips and blow bubbles. Strengthening these muscles is important for developing their ability to form clear sounds when speaking and to eat and swallow safely.
  • Gross motor skills: Your child can reach to pop bubbles and build hand-eye coordination as they reach. Walking toddlers and infants may follow the bubbles on their feet and practice their moving skills.
  • Eye tracking skills: Younger infants and toddlers learn to follow the bubbles with their eyes.
  • Vocabulary and concept development: As you talk to your child about bubbles, you expose them to words such as clear, soapy, float, and pop.
  • Cognitive development: When young children touch a bubble, it pops, giving them a chance to explore cognitive concepts such as cause and effect.
  • Joint attention: Smiling and laughing together builds strong relationships and helps children learn to connect with others and discover shared interests. Who can help but smile as bubbles float by?

Be creative when you think of places for summertime play. The sandbox, the park, the community pool, the farmers market, and the zoo are all exciting places to explore in warm weather.

Let’s consider swimming. The pool is a great place to cool off and enjoy time together. Your EI team’s developmental or physical therapist can help you find the right equipment to help your child be safe in the water or teach you how to hold your child so you both feel safe and secure.

A trip the zoo or county fair might seem overwhelming, especially for a child with sensory challenges. Your EI team can help you find picture books to help your child become familiar with the upcoming experience and plan so the pace and timing of activities are enjoyable for all of your family members. Adaptations such as a picture schedule or noise cancelling headphones could help your child manage this new experience.

Your EI team can help you think of adaptations you may need to make to help your child successfully explore these spaces. They are a resource to help you think of equipment or strategies to add to your favorite summertime activities.

Through planning and teamwork with your EI team, you can be ready for a full summer of fun and learning!

This post was originally written for the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse. See the original post here: https://eiclearinghouse.org/newsletter/2018summer/

Early Childhood Education, Early Learning, Illinois Early Learning Project

Busy with Blocks

Children learn many things by playing with blocks. Spatial and mathematical thinking are important understandings that children build through block play. As children build, they gain hands-on experience with concepts of proportions and balance. They explore shapes. As they talk about the blocks they are handling, they learn about the two-dimensional shapes on the surfaces of blocks and the three-dimensional forms that blocks represent, such as cylinders, prisms, and cubes. As they build, they learn to organize things by relative size, color, weight, and form.

Natural and human-built structures fill the world. Young children notice the shapes and designs of these built structures all around them. Perhaps you have been on a walk or car ride and heard a preschooler commenting on very tall built structures such as a skyscraper, a spikey fence, or a twisty slide on a playground. Children notice bird nests, hills, lakes, rivers, and other natural structures. Then, you may have seen that child attempting to re-create that structure with wooden blocks, plastic bricks, or even rocks on the playground. Blocks are a valuable tool that allow children to represent their world and share their understandings with peers and caregivers.

Block play also is an opportunity for children to develop skills across developmental domains, prompting them to use their language, social, and emotional skills. During block play, children have opportunities to communicate and collaborate with peers. Children can share ideas and work together to build large structures. Children negotiate sharing resources. They may work out exchanges of various shapes or problem solve how to build their structure when a certain shape is in short supply. A child may need to manage her emotions and frustration when another child knocks down her structure.

Do you want to keep your young learners busy with blocks? Here are some ideas to help make block play a richer and more inclusive opportunity for diverse learners.

  • Organize your space: Provide a variety of types of building blocks and add picture and word labels to help children find and put away blocks in an organized manner. This will help them find the shapes of blocks they need for their structures as well as learn the vocabulary to talk about structures such as arch, pillar, unit, and double unit.
  • Add loose parts: Adding other items to blocks inspires children to play with blocks in new ways. Scarves can become canopies, tissue boxes can become beds, twigs might encourage children to create a small forest. Small pieces of paper and tape can be used to create signs and symbols to enhance block creations. (Be sure to choose objects appropriate for the age of the children in your setting to avoid choking hazards.)
  • Encourage dramatic play: Adding toy animals, people, or vehicles to your block play can encourage children to create stories. Clothespins and cardboard can be used to make simple stand-up people. You might also tape the photos of the children in your classroom or people in your family to blocks so they can become characters your block play.
  • Allow structures to remain standing: If your space allows, let children keep their structures standing instead of putting them away immediately. You might encourage children to write a sign with the word “save” by their structure so they can continue to work on it later.
  • Incorporate technology: Help children use a video camera, digital camera, or other recording device to document their creations. You can interview the children and ask them to describe their structures. Try rebuilding a previous creation or creating a diagram that shows the design of a structure you built.

Build, break down, and build again! For more ideas and information to help you get your young learners busy with blocks, check out the resources from the Illinois Early Learning Project website.

(Originally written for the Illinois Early Learning Project https://illinoisearlylearning.org/blogs/growing/busy-blocks/)

Early Childhood Education, Illinois Early Learning Project, Parenting

Try and Try Again

Newborns are completely dependent on their caregivers. As the weeks and months go by, they are able to do more and more. “New” skills develop quickly: smiling, reaching and grasping a toy, sitting up, scooting and crawling, cruising, and, eventually, that first independent step. Families and caregivers are excited to cheer on each new skill.

Families, teachers, and caregivers want young children to be successful. It can be hard to watch a child struggle or become frustrated. Sometimes, well-meaning adults think they are helping young children by doing things for them. However, it can be both safer and better for adults to encourage children to try things on their own or provide limited supports that encourage children to use their skills to complete part of a task.

You may have noticed that some children start talking sooner or later than others. Children reach developmental milestones at different times. Some children will need different or special supports and will meet milestones at a very different pace. Regardless of a child’s timeline on a particular skill or understanding, there are many ways that parents, caregivers, and teachers can help them develop abilities to help themselves and others in daily activities.

Imagine a group of 4 year olds trying to climb a slide’s ladder. One child may climb on her own, while a teacher may need to show another how to alternate his hands and feet by tapping on which foot or hand should be used next. Another child might be too afraid to climb up and need verbal encouragement and emotional support from an adult.

In the case of a child who is fearful or struggling to get up the ladder, adults may be tempted to help a child “too much” and just put them on the top or slide down with them. After all, the child may be focused on just being able to use the exciting slide. However, a child will be much safer, confident, and competent in using the slide by herself if adults resist that first impulse to just get her to the top and instead encourage her to try harder to climb up the ladder.

Here’s some ways adults can encourage young children to try and try again while providing a little support so they can do things on their own:

  • If a child is upset about a lost item, help them develop their problem solving skills by asking questions or helping them look for it rather than finding it for them. Ask them “Where did you think you last gave teddy a hug?” or say “let’s start looking in your cubby, and then we will check the block shelf.”
  • If a child is overwhelmed by a cleanup task after playtime, rather than clean up for him, break it down and provide a specific plan to get the job done together. Say, “I will be in charge of putting the books on the shelf, and you are in charge of getting the animals in the basket.”
  • If a child gets frustrated trying to zip her coat, rather than zipping it for her, reach from behind and show her how to start the zipper. Then encourage her to finish by letting her pull the zipper all the way up. This will give her a feeling of success and helps her slowly learn how to zip her coat by herself.

There are many moments throughout the day when young children are gaining skills to become independent. Finding the right level of support for a young child is a balancing act for the adults who care for them. Adults can find that balance for a child over time through experimentation and self-reflection. With the right balance, children can develop the persistence to try and try again, which will benefit them as they meet future challenges.

Originally written for the Illinois Early Learning Project: Try and Try Again