Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Early Intervention Fits Right In

No two EI families are exactly alike. The daily activities that families participate in and the places they spend time vary. The Illinois Early Intervention program supports families in ways that are flexible, individualized, and tailored to the family’s preference. Early intervention staff and providers focus on partnering with families to work together to help infants and toddlers learn and develop. The routines and activities common in one family may be different than those in another family. Young children increase their knowledge and skills best when new activities and strategies are a part of that child’s regular routines and daily life.

The early intervention team approach revolves around helping families to use strategies that will help infants and toddlers develop their skills during everyday activities in their natural environments. Natural environments are home and community settings in which children and families with and without disabilities regularly participate. These spaces might look different for different families and different children. One child may spend most weekdays outside the home at a local child care center, while another child might have daily visits to grandma’s house. These places are the child’s natural environment. And early intervention services can fit right into these routines and spaces.

Many things influence the daily routines of infants and toddlers. Daily routines are a part of family life. Family life includes interactions with various family members, shared activities, and shared values and culture. Differences in family life are expected because there are no two families exactly alike. Some differences might include the types of first foods given to young children, whether children are encouraged to feed themselves, their family’s sleeping arrangements, the language used to communicate, and whether a child is encouraged to try to move about on the floor or whether they are carried for longer periods of time.

Cultural differences may influence child care and work arrangements. Some working families will choose to enroll their child in a child care center or home while others are more comfortable with care from a relative or friend. Some cultural influences may be more subtle, such as differences in how caregivers respond to children’s feelings. For example, some caregivers will allow children to fuss when upset and others will rock, bounce, or carry upset children to calm them.

High-quality EI services are provided to all families. Each family’s culture is reflected uniquely in their everyday life. The early intervention program empowers families as their child’s first teacher and learns from families how they embrace their cultural beliefs and practices to offer services that are meaningful.

This sharing begins during the initial screening and evaluation process in which the family describes their everyday routines and talks about their child’s challenges and strengths and continues as families begin to participate in the EI program when their child is deemed eligible.

This rich exchange of information will help the EI team plan interventions and strategies that fit into a family’s lifestyle and help the child learn to develop and grow to his or her fullest potential.

Originally written in collaboration with the Illinois EI Clearinghouse Staff for the Early Intervention Clearinghouse Summer 2017 Newsletter

Illinois Early Learning Project


One, two, three! Hearing young children begin to count is exciting! As families and caregivers listen to a child’s little voice say number words in order, they feel pride and joy in the child’s learning.

Saying the numbers in order, or rote counting, is a very useful and important skill. Children learn the patterns of number words as they rote count. They think about how a group of objects or individuals can be described using a number quantity. Children learn to rote count through songs, finger plays, stories, and by hearing the people around them count.

Rote counting is often the first time that families notice their child using “math.” Counting is one of the big math concepts young children explore, but not the only one! Math learning in early childhood includes many other concepts, skills, and understandings that children learn through their everyday exploration, routines, and play.

Sometimes, educators call this type of play mathematizing. By mathematizing, we mean using mathematical thinking and talk during play or routine activities. Here are a few examples about how young children might mathematiz

  • Children notice when piles of toys or other objects have more or less pieces. For example, a child may notice when his peer has more toy animals than he does.
  • Children use their fingers to count while singing songs such as “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” or “Five Little Ducks.” They may be eager to show their caregivers how many fingers they are still holding up after they finish singing a verse of the song.
  • Children categorize toys, natural objects, and foods into groups. For example, they may sort dry cereal, fruit salad, or candies by color or shape.
  • Children talk about whether something is longer, shorter, bigger, or smaller. For example, they may compare the length of their hair, the size of their feet, or their height to another person’s.
  • Children talk about the passing time and what they will do next. For example, they may talk about games they played yesterday and places they hope to go tomorrow.
  • Children notice colors and shapes. For example, children may comment about the colors and shapes of tiles in a hallway. They might try to walk on only a certain color or shape as they move down the hall.

Adults can help young children mathematize throughout the day. Adults can ask children questions about quantities, patterns, time, and shapes. They can encourage them to find out more about the world around them and provide tools such as tape measures, rulers, strings, or blocks for measurement. They can provide boxes and containers that encourage children to sort and classify objects.Each time an adult encourages a child to mathematize, they are helping the young children they care about to develop mathematical thinking skills that will help them succeed in school.

Writen for the Illinois Early Learning Project: https://illinoisearlylearning.org/blogs/growing/mathematize/

Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Teaming for Outcomes

In the early intervention (EI) program, the family, service coordinator, and EI professionals are a team. When an EI team gathers, the conversation often involves talking about outcomes. In early intervention, we use the word outcomes to describe what family members want to see happen for their child and their family as a result of their participation in the EI program. These outcomes are listed in the individual family service plan (IFSP). This plan identifies the family’s concerns and priorities for meeting their child’s needs.

Making progress toward outcomes is the result of the many small and big steps the family and EI service providers take as they work together. EI team members need to help each other understand the family’s routine so they can choose and use strategies that work well for the family. Let’s consider an example of how an EI team can work together to plan strategies for a toddler to reach an IFSP outcome related to communication.

Lucy is 24 months old. She receives EI services for a delay in language development. When Lucy’s family and their EI team meet to write her IFSP, they decide one overall outcome they want to work toward is encouraging Lucy to give a verbal response when she normally would point or nod. The team talks about times during everyday routines that Lucy’s family could encourage her to use words and build her vocabulary.

Lucy’s family loves to play outside. The team decides to have a speech therapy session at the playground to develop strategies to encourage Lucy to use her words. The speech therapist and her family practice ways to encourage Lucy to respond with words and increase Lucy’s vocabulary. Now, when Lucy gets to the bottom of the slide, her dad says, “That was fun! The slide is slippery and fast. Do you want to slide again?” He waits, and then if Lucy responds by shrieking with delight, he says, “You are excited! Tell me ‘yes’ if you want to slide again.” “Ess!” says Lucy.

Every park playtime becomes an opportunity to work toward the outcome of improving Lucy’s language skills. By encouraging Lucy to use more words and continuing to use descriptive words himself, Lucy’s dad helps her take more and more steps toward their outcome of using her words to communicate.

Focusing on daily routines is how EI teams meet IFSP outcomes. This EI Clearinghouse newsletter contains resources you can use to support language development at home, understand who is on your EI team, and work together toward outcomes. With every little step, an EI team gets closer to achieving IFSP outcomes as well as building a strong foundation for future growth.

Originally Written in collaboration with the  Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Staff for the Spring 2017 Newsletter

Illinois Early Learning Project

Super Story Time

“Tell me a story!” or “Read it again!” You have probably heard those words spoken by a child you know. Go ahead and answer, “Yes!” Cuddling up with a good book is a great way for children and adults to spend time together.

Reading together is one way that families, caregivers, and teachers can help children build the skills that will help them be successful in school. In fact, reading is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged health care providers to make literacy promotion an essential component of pediatric primary care.

Reading together supports the development of children’s language and comprehension skills. Reading exposes children to new ideas and information. Children learn how printed text works. They hear the sounds of language. As you read, children are building vocabulary.

Conversations about what you are reading are opportunities to build cognitive, social, and emotional skills. You can encourage children to recall the order of events in a story, guess what characters might do next, and talk about how characters might feel.

Children benefit from the chance to repeat and replay stories in different ways. Children show their understanding of a story through these activities. They use the words they have heard and have the opportunity to be creative with language. Below are some ideas for how caregivers can build on story time.

Act it out: Some stories describe movements or dances. Try to make the movements you see in the pictures. Dress up, play pretend, and tell a favorite story. Scarves, old clothing, and hats made of paper can be used creatively as costumes. You can even use a cell phone to video your storytelling and watch your creation together.

Create puppets: Puppets can be made out of paper, popsicle sticks, straws, and bits of cloth or yarn. Turn cardboard tubes, paper bags, and old socks into puppets. Use your imagination to create characters from favorite stories and songs. You can use the puppets to retell a familiar story or make up a new one. Try using stuffed animals and toy figures like puppets in storytelling.

Use a storyboard: Children enjoy being able to move pictures around as they retell a story or sing a song. A simple storyboard can be created with a piece of flannel glued to cardboard. Flannel, felt, or Velcro bits on fabric or paper cutouts will help cutouts of characters or a story scene stick with static. What can you do if you do not have a flannel storyboard? No problem! Try using paper cutouts and magnets on the refrigerator or other surface. You can even just move paper cutouts on a table top as you tell the story or sing a song.

Draw a picture: With a pen and paper you can tell a story. You do not need to be a great artist—stick figures and scribbles are just fine! As you tell a story, draw figures and symbols to represent what you are saying. Share the pen with your child and encourage them to join in. You can also try this with a dry erase board, magnetic doodler, or even with a stick in the sandbox at the playground.

Sing songs that tell stories: The lyrics of songs can tell stories. As you sing, act out the words and encourage your child to join in the singing. Look for books that illustrate song lyrics. Make up your own versions of favorite songs.

Tell stories about you: You and your child have many experiences and many stories to tell! Fold a piece of paper to make a little book. Write down your child’s words and illustrate the book together. If you have access to a printer or can get photos printed at a local store, you can include pictures of your family in the book. Children love to see themselves and the ones they love as part of a story!

Written for the Illinois Early Learning Project: https://illinoisearlylearning.org/blogs/growing/superstory/

Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Let’s Move!

Infants and toddlers are people on the move! They use their bodies as tools for discovery. We see them wiggling, reaching, creeping, crawling, scooting, cruising, walking, dancing, and even running. These are some of the ways infants and toddlers demonstrate their “gross motor” or large movement skills.

We also see them wiggle their fingers and toes, grasp objects with their hands, and pick up tiny objects with their fingertips. These are considered small body movements, often called “fine motor” skills, which also include oral motor skills. We see infants develop muscle control in their mouths as the sounds they make change rapidly from cries, to coos, to babbles, and eventually to words.

One reason many families connect with the early intervention program is that they have concerns about their child’s motor development. Families may worry that their child is not reaching milestones or moving in a typical manner. It is important to remember that each child follows an individual timeline in meeting specific motor milestones. Because of these individual differences, caregivers may find it helpful to know three key ideas that explain the progression of motor development of infants and toddlers.

Motor development starts at the head and moves down to the toes.

Newborn infants do not have control of their heads. They first develop control of their head and neck muscles and develop the ability to hold their heads up and look around. Next infants develop control of their core muscles and arms (trunk) as they learn to roll and sit up. When these core muscles are strong, they develop more control of their legs as they learn to pull to a stand, walk with support, and eventually walk unassisted.

Motor development starts from the center of the body and moves outward.

Initially, infants move their limbs in an uncontrolled way, often because of their primitive reflexes. To progress in development, these innate reflexes must disappear first. As they mature, they begin to move their limbs intentionally. First, they make larger movements with their arms and legs, and as they mature, they will start to develop the small muscles of their hands, feet, and mouths.

Motor development is first general and then becomes specific.

This means infants will first use their large muscles more generally, and as they grow they will develop more precise motor abilities. For example, as infants begin to get control of their limbs, they make swiping movements at toys and objects. Over time, they develop the ability to grasp objects in their palm and then eventually to use the tiny muscles of their fingers to pick up small objects such as small pieces of fruit or cereal.

These big ideas about motor development can help you understand the progression of motor skills you see your child display. Think creatively and consider your everyday routines. You can support your child’s motor development by providing opportunities for her to move and discover the world.

If you have more questions, talk to your service coordinator or early intervention provider.

Written in collaboration with the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Staff for the Winter 2017 Newsletter.

Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Tune Into Your Child’s Sensory Experience to Support Development and Learning

Young children in early intervention (EI) may need extra support and patience as they explore the sensory world around them. Together, families and the EI team can plan for enjoyable sensory play and experiences that can give them the extra support they need to confidently explore their world.

Caregivers may wonder about these big variations in behavior among children. Caregivers may want to know which responses to these experiences are typical and which are not (atypical). A caregiver may even find that a child could show interest and fear at different times—even in response to the same experience. How is it possible that the responses of children could be so different? Families and the EI team can work together to figure out a child’s pattern and support her unique developmental needs. Consider the examples below:

“Beep, beep—vroom!” Joey, a 9-month-old infant, loves riding in the car. He smiles and kicks his legs and waves his arms when his mom puts him in the car. His mom hears him giggling when they drive on bumpy roads and when the engine revs up. Lily, also 9 months old, dislikes riding in the car. She cries when her dad buckles the car seat and screams when the engine rumbles or the horn beeps.

“Splish, splash, bubble bubble!” Hui, a 12-month-old, crawls over to the bathtub with a big smile on her face and pulls up on the edge of the tub when she hears the water running. After her grandma places her in the bath, she kicks her legs and plunges her hands into the water. Brandon, also 12 months old, crawls away from the bathroom when he hears the water running and protests when his mom puts him in the bathtub. He reaches up his arms toward her with a frown on his face.

In the above examples, both responses are typical of young children’s behavior. Infants and toddlers are developing their ability to process and understand different sensory experiences. It is helpful for adults to remind themselves that the world is a new place for them. These very young children are discovering what kinds of textures, sounds, tastes, smells, and sights the world contains and what these experiences feel like to their bodies and what these experiences mean.

Electric hand dryers, flushing toilets, thunderstorms, and fire sirens are all loud sounds. Some children hear these sounds and are frightened. Others hear these sounds and are very excited and interested. In time, children learn what these sounds mean. For example, the flashing lights and sirens from a fire truck mean firefighters are going to help someone. Knowing the sounds means someone in trouble is receiving help, and getting used to the volume and intensity of the sound of the siren after hearing it many times can make this sensory experience less scary.

Families and EI providers can tune into a child’s sensory experience by watching her response to different sounds, tastes, textures, smells, and sights. Does she go toward loud sounds or turn away from them? Does he like vigorous swinging or does he cry in the swing? Does she laugh and smile at light tickly touches on her toes or relax and respond to firm pressure on her feet? By observing these differences, caregivers and an EI team can work together to provide opportunities that are “just right” for an individual child and help her learn about her world. This EI Clearinghouse newsletter will provide you with resources and ideas for everyday sensory play that can support the learning and development of young children.

Originally written in collaboration with the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Staff for the Fall 2016 Newsletter

Illinois Early Learning Project

Make Art a Part of Every Day: Focus on the Process

When I was a teacher of young children, I especially loved setting out materials in the art center. I would admire the colors and textures of the materials while pouring cups of paint and glue and filling little baskets with drawing and collage materials. I wondered how the children might explore and use the materials. I enjoyed setting up interesting ways to make art, such as painting with spoons, golf balls, or lengths of yarn.

One vivid memory is from teaching 2-year-olds. After trying to use pine needles instead of brushes, the children and I wondered about other natural items we could use for painting. We tried pinecones, sticks, and even the fascinating fruit of an Osage orange tree near our playground.

The children had noticed the large, bumpy green fruits falling from the orange tree. They were very curious to investigate these fruits. Together, we explored their shape, scent, and texture. We rolled them in tempera paint and delightfully discovered they left a beautiful pattern on the paper. What started as a painting activity ended up providing the children a chance to explore math and science concepts while building their language abilities.

Our conversation about where these mysterious fruits had come from led to conversations about the growth of trees. We talked about how the fruits grew from flowers and increased in size over the summer until they were heavy and fell from the trees. We talked about the weight, shape, and size of the fruits. We watched the squirrels nibbling the fruits, and that inspired us to look inside the fruits.

Children gained vocabulary related to trees and texture (e.g., skin, seed, bumpy, waxy). They practiced their hand-eye coordination and dexterity as they explored the materials. If we pause and reflect, we can see how powerful this type of activity can be in promoting learning because we refocused our attention on the “process” of creation rather than what was created.

High-quality visual art experiences for young children should emphasize the process of creating. However, the art created by these “process art” experiences usually lack easily identifiable images. Because of this challenge, adults guiding young children may be tempted to plan “crafty” art activities that lead to an identifiable product to avoid this challenge.

Therefore, our classroom team had to help families and other adults in the center understand how the painting experience supported the children’s development and promoted their learning. We included photos and a short explanation of the activity with our display of the paintings. When the children looked at the display, they were eager to point out how the bumpy hedge apples had created circular trails of paint as they rolled them on the paper. We wrote down their words and included them as part of our documentation display so people looking at the artwork could have insight into the children’s creative experience.

Recently, I worked with a group of Head Start teachers and family advocates in a workshop in which we experimented with crayons, different types of papers, and textured materials. I encouraged them to make crayon rubbings of bubble wrap, cross-stich canvas, and bumpy cardboard. We also experimented with drawing on bumpy paper, sandpaper, and slick aluminum foil.

The room was quiet while everyone focused on their experimentation. I heard a few people ask, “Why are we just coloring with crayons during a professional development day?” I assured them that this was part of the learning process.

Suddenly, a participant said in a frustrated tone: “This sandpaper is eating up my crayon!” We talked about how a child might make a similar observation. We realized that the art activity could easily become a science experiment with young children. Teachers brainstormed about trying different-sized crayons, trying different grades of sandpaper, and counting the number of strokes it might take for a crayon to be used up.

There were so many possibilities to explore with crayons and textures! We began to list other things to explore with texture, such as creating rubbings with chalk, dipping textured items in paint to make patterns, and pressing textured items into clay or play dough.

I think the art centers in these teacher’s classrooms will be busy this school year. Perhaps you and the children in your home or center may also make art a part of every day!

Written for the Illinois Early Learning Project: https://illinoisearlylearning.org/blogs/growing/artpart/

Illinois Early Learning Project

Pour It! Stir It! Yum!

Cooking is a wonderful way to engage children and provide rich learning opportunities. Cooking engages the senses and gives children hands-on opportunities to explore food. Children enjoy discovering the smells, textures, and tastes of different foods. Cooking experiences are a wonderful opportunity to work the small muscles of their hands by using simple kitchen tools and to develop hand-eye coordination as they are sprinkling, pinching, squeezing, and organizing ingredients.

Baking cookies is often what comes to mind when many early childhood educators and parents think of cooking experiences for young children. Children are excited to pour ingredients, stir them in a bowl, scoop the dough onto trays, and see raw ingredients change into finished cookies after a trip to the oven.

Baking provides many wonderful opportunities to measure, mix, observe, and predict what will happen with ingredients. Curious young learners will be interested to learn about the source of ingredients such as flour. You can describe how wheat is grown in a field, is harvested by a combine, and is processed in a mill. Read stories such as The Little Red Hen and find informational books with photographs of the production of flour to expand upon your cooking conversations.

Of course, a baking activity with young children might seem like an overwhelming task that has potential to create a big mess. Your classroom or home setup may not make it easy to bake with young children. Many cooking activities require less setup and preparation, but they are still meaningful learning opportunities. These simple cooking experiences can help you build your confidence about cooking with young children. These activities also allow you to have these rich learning experiences even when space or resources are more limited.

Here are some cooking ideas that can give children experiences that help them develop the skills and knowledge described in the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS). Cooking with young children can provide lots of opportunities to address several IELDS benchmarks.

Make a sandwich together. As you gather the ingredients, encourage children to look at the labels on the items. You can encourage your child to look for letters and words she knows. Talk about the order you need to follow when putting the sandwich together. What food needs to be put on the sandwich first and what food is last.

Slice soft fruits or vegetables for a salad using a butter knife. Count the pieces of fruit you have cut and talk about their shapes. Compare the quantities of items in your salad. For example, ask children “Does the salad have more tomato or cucumber slices?”

Squeeze lemons for lemonade or oranges to make fresh orange juice. As you create your beverage, you can talk about the trees where the fruit was grown, who harvests and transports the fruit to the store, and the parts of the fruit such as the peel, pith, and pulp.

Spread cream cheese, nut butter, or hummus on toast or crackers. Introduce vocabulary such as thin and thick as the children use a dull knife to put the spread on the crackers or toast. To encourage math thinking, you can ask children how many crackers are needed to make three sandwiches or to guess the number of crackers on their plates.

Crack and whip eggs for scrambled eggs. Talk about how a chicken lays eggs. Name the different parts of the egg (shell, yolk, white). Supervise children carefully by the stove so they can watch the cooking, and talk about how the eggs change as they are heated in the pan.

Perhaps your next meal or snack can become a learning adventure for the children in your care. Below are some resources to help you get started.

Written for the Illinois Early Learning Project: https://illinoisearlylearning.org/blogs/growing/yum/

Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Everyday Fun: Spaces!

Familiar spaces are comfortable places to learn and grow. There are many familiar places to take your child regularly, such as the library, the grocery store, or the doctor’s office. For you, they are routine, but for young children, these places are fascinating and new.

Infants and toddlers with and without disabilities naturally explore the world, and they are excited to discover the “new” in their spaces. Perhaps you have seen an infant looking intently at a toy that is just out of arms reach. She might stretch her arm as far as she can until she finds herself rolling onto her belly and grasping the toy. You may have seen a toddler crouching on the sidewalk to watch ants crawl. He might point to the ants and look at his mom with a puzzled expression to let her know he wants to know more about these insects. Curiosity motivates all young children to explore the spaces around them. Opportunities to learn and grow happen naturally when we tune into this curiosity and share in the excitement of discovery with children.

Many families experience challenges when balancing household tasks, community obligations, early intervention, and work. Laundry, cooking, EI providers, and errands always seem to take more time than we expect. The day fills up quickly when you add busy children playing and making a mess to the mix. Families may feel even more time pressure when they try to think of ways to incorporate EI strategies into everyday routines in familiar and new spaces. Adults can more easily do this when they tune into the excitement and curiosity that infants and toddlers have about exploring their spaces. Your child is like a traveler in a new land, and you are the tour guide! A good tour guide talks about everything he sees, smells, touches, and tastes.

Want to make the most of your time with your child to help them grow? Look at your spaces and find many opportunities to explore and grow together. Awaken your senses as you go about your day. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

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Enjoy the outdoors! Your child may notice the birds, squirrels, and plants outside.

  • Watch your child’s face to see where she is looking. The outdoors is a great opportunity to build language skills.
  • Talk with your child about what she is seeing. You can expose her to rich vocabulary words when describing the colors you see, sounds you hear, and scents you smell. You are introducing your child to concepts such as opposites when you describe the warm sun versus the cold snow. These conversations build her cognitive abilities.
  • Make time to climb or cruise around the playground to build your child’s gross motor skills. Crawling is a new experience when you are moving on the soft grass.

Discover treasures indoors! Your home has treasures that your child will enjoy discovering.

  • Your kitchen space may be filled with safe items to discover, such as wooden spoons, measuring cups, and unbreakable bowls. Practice stacking and nesting these items with your child. This builds his spatial awareness. Pretend to cook and feed each other with older infants and toddlers. Pretend play is a natural way to develop social skills such as turn-taking and manners.
  • You might place a few “treasure baskets” in different rooms of your home where you can put items that are safe for your child to explore. Remember, even the laundry basket is full of interesting textures, colors, shapes, and sizes to talk about!
  • Help your child master gross-motor spaces such as stairs, ramps, and furniture.

Tour new places and familiar spaces!

  • Many places that you visit regularly are routine to you but may be fascinating and new to your child. You can explore the library, the grocery store, or the doctor’s office with your child. Explain what others might be doing as they move around you.
  • Adventure out with your child to a new place that makes you curious. This may help you share the excitement of discovery that your child experiences in familiar places.
  • Walk at a different playground, stroll around a museum, or explore a local cultural festival. Ask questions and wait for your child to answer or indicate his interest by turning his eyes toward you or pointing at things he sees. Respond to your own questions and be a language model for your child.
 Originally written in collaboration with the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Staff for the Spring 2016 Newsletter.


Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Healthy Sleep Key to First Few Years

You give your toddler a kiss, tuck her in her little bed, and then she cries, “No! No night night! Don’t go!” You hand her a favorite toy bunny, tell her you will be around the corner, and close the door. You hear tiny feet shuffling down the hallway just as you enter the kitchen to finish the dinner dishes. Your toddler is out of bed. You walk her back to her bed. You tuck her in and close the door. She returns a few minutes later. You let out a big sigh and walk her down the hall again.

Tonight’s game of bedtime ping-pong is going strong. Your child is the ball and she’s bouncing between her bed and the kitchen. You are frustrated and tired. You start to wonder whether the bedtime fight is worth your energy. Where is the coach with a pep talk that can keep you motivated in this tough moment so you can help your child sleep? Here are a few reasons to keep trying to win the bedtime game:

Healthy sleep promotes brain development. The brains of infants and toddlers are growing during sleep times. The brain grows rapidly during this time of life. Sleep times during the first three years of life are especially important for healthy brain development.

Healthy sleep promotes self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to how the brain and body work together to control emotions, attention, and thoughts. Self-regulation is the foundation of early childhood development. A well-rested child has an easier time coping with big emotions and transitions through the day. Proper rest helps children sustain attention during play. Well-rested children have an easier time learning and exploring new things because of their increased ability to self-regulate.

Healthy sleep is important for physical health. New research indicates proper rest is connected to healthy growth patterns. A well-rested child is better able to fight off illness, maintain a healthy body weight, and have better overall physical health. Certain hormones that help with the repair and growth of cells are only released during deep sleep. Research also indicates that the whole family’s health is improved when parents and other adults who live with young children get healthy sleep.

Mindfulness, or being aware of our own feelings in the moment, can be an important way to manage stress. Bedtime battles are stressful for caregivers during all stages of early development.

Challenges can begin from the newborn days with a fussy baby who is difficult to soothe, into the infant stage when your baby stands in the crib crying, and continue to the toddler times when your child keeps leaving his bed for one more kiss or hug.

If your child was in the neonatal intensive care unit or has had health issues that interfere with sleep such as sleep apnea, you may find yourself continuing to worry about your child’s health during sleep. Your child senses your stress level, and this can make it hard for a child to calm down. This is because young children and their caregivers are connected through emotions.

As a caregiver, try taking a few deep breaths and saying to yourself or your child, “I’m helping you with sleep so your brain and body can grow.” Imagine warm and cozy thoughts. Remember that your children’s sleep space is a haven that allows them time to grow and develop.

This mindful self-talk can help you keep focused on your goal of helping your child sleep. Being calm in the moment can help you soothe your child. Talk with your child’s health care providers or your EI providers to come up with a sleep plan that is workable for your family.

This issue’s EI Note contains ideas for creating a healthy sleep space and routine for your child, and we hope you will find many ideas that will help your family have restful and restorative sleep so you will have energy to play and learn together.

Originally written for the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Fall 2015 Newsletter