The child’s environment strongly influences and enhances his overall developmental growth. A safe, respectful, nurturing, and loving environment carefully prepared for the young child is the most valuable tool we have as adults to assure healthy development for the child.
Even though adults are a big part of the child’s environment, an adult environment is not suitable for a young child. It is the adult’s job to be a good role model and to serve as a link between the child and his environment. The adult should prepare a developmentally appropriate setting in which the child can grow and develop. Adults should always be aware of the child’s needs and make adaptations to the environment when needed. It is critical that the environment be prepared with the child’s social, emotional, physical, mental and spiritual needs in mind.
A child needs an environment that will allow him to develop concentration, move about freely and be independent. Concentration is an essential factor in the child’s development and is the basis for his character and social behavior. The child must learn to concentrate and he will if his environment includes items of interest and importance to him. Qualities in a child’s environment that will promote concentration are beauty, order, reality, respect, limits, independence, and silence.
Some important elements to always consider when constructing an environment for the young child are safety, the basic design of the environment and supporting the child’s need for movement, order and language. The environment should allow the child the time needed to finish what he starts, a space to work in that encourages self exploration and the freedom to move, work, make choices, and be one’s self.
Using beautiful, quality materials in the child’s environment will attract and help keep the attention of the child. Materials for children should be natural; preferably made of wood to protect the child from unsafe chemicals that can be found in many synthetic materials.
The child’s furniture and tools for learning should be child size to encourage good posture, interest and concentration. A child needs to be able to reach materials when he needs them, in order to become responsible for his own learning. It is best to have low, open shelves in the child’s environment to encourage independence from the adult.
The placement of furniture and work in the child’s surroundings will let him know without too much verbal instruction what different areas of the room are for. The child should be able to choose from developmentally appropriate work that encourages the process of thinking, problem solving and discovery. The ultimate goal is to promote self esteem in the child enabling him to experience the elation of “I did it myself!”
A child will change as he grows and develops so his environment will need to evolve and change as well. It will be through careful and constant observation, and knowledge that the adult will find clues of what a child may need changed in his environment. Remember, if the child’s environmental needs are met, he will be focused, peaceful, and happy. If the child is frustrated or unhappy, his environment may not be supporting all his needs.
Planning and executing a prepared environment in advance will allow the adult to devote his time to being with, observing and enjoying the child. A safe, beautiful, organized environment with the proper preparation and guidance from the adult can certainly help a child be self-disciplined, independent, focused, respectful, creative, peaceful, happy and secure in his environment.
"It is thought that one neuron, because of expansive dendritic branching, can connect with as many as one thousand other neurons at any given moment.” - Carl Sagan
Neurological development is the growth of all the structures of the brain and cognitive development is “what we do with what we got.”
The time between birth and three years old is a crucial time in an individual's brain development, with most neurological growth taking place during this time. The habits and experiences cultivated by parents and primary caregivers of young children during this period have a long-lasting impact on a child's brain and overall health.
Early childhood neurological development occurs from conception until age 6. Brain nerve cells form before birth and continue to develop during the first six years of life. Research has shown that 75 percent of neurological growth takes place during this time.
The brain nerve cells formed before birth are like wires to be connected, with each connection signifying neurological development. These connections occur each time a child experiences sensory stimulation such as being held, touched, read to, or played with. A child’s interest in certain activities, sights, sounds and objects will determine how quickly neurological connections form. Once the primary neurological pathways are established, around age 8 months, a child is ready to develop the basis for language, intelligence, sociability and curiosity. The process is directly related to sensory integration – taking in information – processing the information – and putting out information.
· Parents and caregivers have the responsibility of cultivating a child's neurological development by interacting with the child on a regular basis and especially in times of need, such as when a child is sick or upset.
· More than anything, babies need human interaction. They need emotional stimulation – not intellectual stimulation.
· Optimum neurological development is dependent on a young child receiving adequate sleep, a nutritious diet and regular exercise.
· The actions that primary caregivers take or fail to take can have an enormous impact on a child's development. For example, children who are held and calmed during stressful times are less likely to resort to violence later in life. Similarly, a child who is read to at a young age is more likely to have success in reading. Playing with an infant or young child helps to stimulate that child's cognitive reasoning and development.
· Neurological development contributes significantly to the acquisition of physical skills in young children.
· Understanding how the brain works helps us to best understand the rest of a young child’s development.
· Every child will go through every stage of development - some faster and some slower. Fully realized cognitive ability will not occur any earlier than 18 years.
· The brain is never really finished forming, even an adult’s brain chemistry changes every day with each new occurrence.
Reptilian Complex or “The world of Habit”:
A leading brain researcher named Dr. Paul MacLean referred to the innermost core of the brain that regulates behaviors so basic to life that even reptiles have them, as the “reptilian complex.”
He said that these basic behaviors are often thought of as habits and that the three key reptilian habits of ceremony, repetition, and routine are very important elements in good teaching and good parenting. Research proves that children thrive on these habits and in fact are lost without them.
· Ceremony – enables a child to feel “a feeling of specialness”. Examples: Give them a fresh flower, a hug, one on one time with you, a special bedtime song, etc.
· Repetition – is practicing something over and over. Children will do this when they really want to learn a new skill.
· Routines – children are dependent on a daily schedule in order to make sense of life. A routine lowers stress levels in children.
Important facts to consider regarding the cognitive development of toddlers:
Some ways to promote neurological development:
We live in a world where young children are immersed in environments saturated with an array of both old and new technology. The evolution of technology has altered the role of media in households throughout the USA. Even infants and toddlers are being exposed to increased amounts of screen time. As research struggles to keep up with the rapid pace of technology, developmental specialists are left wondering how screen time affects a young child’s brain development.
What is screen time?
Screen time refers to any time a child spends looking at an electronic screen. This includes playing video games, watching TV or video movies, and using computers, tablets, or phones.
Is screen time beneficial?
Research proves that children younger than 2 years need hand’s on exploration and social interaction with their primary caregivers to best develop their cognitive, motor, language, and social-emotional skills. Their young brains are just not complex enough to absorb the content of screen time even though they are attracted to it.
Evidence for benefits of screen time is still limited for children under 2 but we do know that adult interaction with the child during media use is extremely important at this age. The primary factor that facilitates toddlers learning from electronic media is parents watching with them and reteaching the content viewed. No screen will ever replace human interaction at this young age!
The American Academy of pediatrics (AAP) says that limited screen time is okay for children as young as 18 months, but recommends that it should be less than an hour a day of high quality digital media – and urges parents to co-view with the child. Not allowing screen time would even be better for the child, but reality often gets in the way of parent’s best intentions. The AAP says it is best to totally avoid screen time for children under18 months unless it is video chatting.
Too much screen time can be harmful to a child’s development. Some of the critical factors to keep in mind are as follow:
• High media (screen time) use has been associated with shorter attention spans, hyperactivity, ADHD, and aggressive behavior. Thus, screen time can affect the child’s social, emotional, and behavioral development.
• Researchers also have discovered that kids who start watching TV as toddlers may have a tougher time managing their emotions and comforting themselves when they are older.
• Even having a TV on in the background has been shown to be so distracting that it interferes with interactions between children and parents.
• Too much screen time contributes to child obesity and future weight gain because of limited movement while viewing. In fact, a recent study found that toddlers’ body mass index increased with every hour of screen time per week.
• Too much screen time can cause sleep issues. The American Association of Pediatrics warns against having screens in children’s bedrooms because they are linked to poor sleep quality. The light emitted from the screen devices may delay melatonin release and make it harder to fall asleep. Also - the content viewed could be over-stimulating making it hard to fall asleep.
• Screen time can easily become an unhealthy habit and habits are hard to break. The more that children use screens, the more they become dependent on them.
• Be careful about using screens as a way to keep children busy during errands, or as a tool to calm them down or distract them when they are bored or restless. It is so important for young children to learn how to manage their emotions. Giving them the electronic screen robs them of the opportunity to independently learn how to cope with their emotional discomfort.
• Also keep in mind - that heavy parent use of mobile devices is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions between parents and children.
In closing, I would like to remind parents that the first two years of your child’s life will go by quickly and they thrive through their interactions with you. Their interactions with you (not screen time) will best enhance optimal development!
Important research has proven that a child’s exposure to language starts in utero between six and seven months when the fetus begins to hear. The fetus will respond to familiar voices and patterns in sound; especially your voice and classical music. Talking to your child and playing music while in utero will enhance his brain and language development. It will also help promote bonding between you and your infant after birth because he will be familiar with your voice.
Learning to talk is one of the most important and difficult steps in a young child’s life. Language helps him: make sense of the world, organize thoughts and express them, ask for what he needs, and be able to understand what others say. When a child acquires language, he has taken a giant step toward independence!!
Language and speech development takes place at different rates for different children. It is not taught to children but absorbed by them. A child will learn any language he is exposed to but will need help from adults in his environment.
The adult’s role in language acquisition is very important. You are the prime interest of your newborn; your face, touch, and voice will comfort him. It is important to understand what to expect from your child and how to respond to him in order to best promote language development. The following information may help:
• Crying is the first communication of the newborn. Expect him to cry between 30 minutes and 3 hours within a 24-hour period.
• If your newborn cries, he will have a need that should be addressed immediately.
• An infant will begin to coo at 3 to 4 months old.
• Babbling begins between 6 and 7 months.
• Multiple babbling begins between 9 months and 1 year.
• First intentional word is at about 12 months.
• By 18 to 24 months, he may have as many as 50 productive words. May use a single word to express a thought.
• By 24 months, he may use 2 or 3 word phrases.
• By 3 years old, will ask questions and will use full sentences.
• Talk to your child from birth and imitate his sounds.
• Look into his eyes, smile, and talk.
• Allow your child time to get out the sounds or words he wants to say.
• Name things and talk about what you are doing.
• Model respectful language such as “please” and “thank you.”
• Be positive when speaking to your child. Enjoy him!
• Speak slowly, clearly, precisely, and calmly.
• Language development goes from concrete to more abstract.
• Read to your child at least by 8 months of age (the earlier, the better). Cardboard and cloth books with colorful pictures are best. He will chew on them!
• Name things in books.
• Use your child’s name when speaking to him.
• TV is bad for language development. Your child should be having conversations with real people to best promote language.
• Speak to your child, not at him!
• Sing songs and read rhymes.
• Some children raised bilingual do take a little longer to start talking than those raised in monolingual households. The delay is temporary, however, and according to experts, it's not a general rule.
• Be concerned if your child demonstrates any of these at risk signs:
1. No eye contact
2. No response to whispering
3. Cries often with no change in pitch
4. Shows little emotions when trying to produce words
5. Does not respond to your voice
“Only the child under three can construct the mechanism of language, he can speak any number of languages, if they are in the environment at birth.” - Maria Montessori
April is National Poetry Month, which brings me an opportunity to share a poem that reflects the essence of child development and the Montessori philosophy. Maria Montessori once said, “"Do not tell them how to do it…show them how to do it.”
To Every Parent
There are little eyes upon you,
And they are watching night and day;
There are little ears that quickly take
In every word you say;
There are little hands all eager to do
Everything you do,
And a little child who's dreaming of
The day he'll be like you.
You're the little child's idol,
You're the wisest of the wise,
In his little mind about you,
No suspicions ever rise;
He believes in you devoutly,
Holds all you say and do;
He will say and do in your way when
He's grown up to be like you.
There's a wide eyed little child who
Believes you're always right,
And his ears are always open and he
Watches day and night;
You are setting an example
Everyday in all you do
For the little child who's waiting
To grow up to be like you.
Temper tantrums are a normal part of toddlerhood and go hand in hand when referring to child development. They can happen at home; school and public places; causing parents and caregivers embarrassment and frustration. What is a tantrum? Why do they happen? What is the best way to respond? Can you prevent them?
What is a tantrum?
A tantrum is an outburst of anger when a young child gets so upset and out of control that it is difficult to calm him down. It is an expression of the child’s frustration with the challenges of the moment.
Why do tantrums happen?
A toddler struggles with the issues of autonomy and control but at the same time is still dependent on adults for his care. He wants to do things all by himself but is not always able to. Thus, he becomes frustrated. Tantrums happen because a child is frustrated when he cannot figure something out, has problems completing a specific task, or does not get something he wants. Often times, a tantrum happens because a child does not have the vocabulary or cannot find the words to express his feelings. A tantrum is more likely to occur when the child is tired, hungry, thirsty, or not feeling well because his threshold for frustration is usually lower.
What is the best way to respond?
Tantrums are not planned and the child’s objective is not to embarrass or frustrate his parents or caregivers. A toddler simply needs to express his turbulent feelings. An older child may learn to throw a tantrum to get what he wants. Educators refer to this as “learned behavior”. You should never reward your child with something he wants or allow him to get out of doing something if he is throwing a tantrum. The tantrums are likely to continue if you give in to the child.
Typically, the best way to respond to a tantrum is to stay calm, in control and acknowledge the child’s feelings. He needs to know that you are there for him and will help him gain control. You may have to pick him up screaming and crying but be sure to keep calm. Tell him that you see he is upset or angry and you are sorry that he is so upset, but do not give in to his wishes if his tantrum is in response to a command from you. Stay close and allow him to have his tantrum. Let him know that you are there for him. He will eventually calm down and you can offer him a hug.
If your child is hitting or kicking someone, hold him until he calms down. Your actions and the tone of your voice will communicate that you are in command and you care about him.
Can tantrums be prevented?
Even though tantrums are part of a toddler’s life, there are some strategies that may help minimalize the frequency of them. You might try the following:
* Try distracting the child if you sense a tantrum is coming.
* Establish a daily routine and stick to it as much as possible so that your child knows what to expect.
* Run errands when your child isn't likely to be hungry or tired. If you're expecting to wait in line, pack a small toy or snack to occupy your child.
* Encourage your child to use words. Young children understand many more words than they're able to express. If your child isn't yet speaking — or speaking clearly — teach him or her sign language for words such as "I want," "more," "drink," "hurt" and "tired." As your child gets older, help him put feelings into words.
* Avoid saying "no" to everything. To give your toddler a sense of control, let him make choices. "Would you like pears or peaches?” “Do you want to wear this one or that one?”
* Recognize your toddler’s accomplishments by celebrating with them. “I see you did that all by yourself!”
* Avoid situations likely to trigger tantrums. Don't give your child toys that are far too advanced for him. If your child begs for specific things when you shop, try to steer clear of areas with these temptations. If your toddler acts up in restaurants, choose places that offer quick service or eat at home.
Most children do grow out of the need to tantrum when they have more language skills and a better understanding of their world. The way we deal with tantrums in the toddler years is important. If we handle children harshly, or continually ignore a child’s feelings and need for comfort, their tantrums may well carry on for a much longer period of time. It is truly important to always remember that a toddler who tantrums is only trying to communicate a need – tantrums are only brief interruptions of peace. Remember to always offer your toddler a hug after a tantrum!
The eruption of a baby’s first tooth is often a time of surprise and celebration; a milestone that most parents note in a special section of their child’s “baby book.”
Babies are born with all 20 primary teeth below their gumline. The eruption of the first tooth usually occurs around 6 months of age, though there is a wide range from 3 months to as late as 12 months of age when this can happen. The most common first teeth to appear are the two in the bottom center of the mouth, followed by the two in the top center. Children usually have their full set of baby teeth in place by age 3.
Teething symptoms can precede the presence of a tooth by as much as two or three months. Every baby experiences teething differently: some have almost no symptoms while others experience pain for months. The following are normal symptoms you may witness when your baby is teething:
* Fussiness/Crying - because of pain due to the inflammation of tender gum tissue, your baby may cry a lot. In severe cases, your pediatrician may recommend acetaminophen to help relieve your baby’s pain. Do not use orajel/benzocaine, viscous lidocaine, (or other topical anesthetics), as there can be serious health risks for children under 2 years old.
* Drooling - can be excessive. Bibs will help your baby’s shirt stay dry and cleaner. Wiping the excess drool as often as possible will help prevent a rash from forming.
* Teething Rash – if your baby is drooling a lot, the constant drip may cause chafing, redness, chapping and rashes around his mouth, chin and neck. Applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly or Aquaphor can protect the skin as well as treat the irritation. If the rash becomes red, cracked, weepy or painful you should contact the pediatrician.
* Irritability – achy gums may cause your baby to be out of sorts. Irritability can last a few hours or several weeks. Cold water and cold foods such as yogurt or applesauce can help relieve aching of the gums for short periods of time. Some parents choose to use amber teething necklaces to ease their baby’s’ discomfort, but there is no medical evidence to suggest they work. In fact, most pediatricians advise against them because they pose a choking hazard.
* Coughing/Gagging – caused by excessive drooling. There is no cause for concern if your baby has no other signs of illness or allergies.
* Trouble Sleeping – discomfort may interrupt the baby’s usual sleep schedule. Your baby may need to be comforted with patting or singing but try to avoid feeding if your baby has already given up nighttime feedings.
* Biting – chewing and biting down on objects help babies relieve some of the discomfort they are feeling. Teething rings, cold wash clothes, rattles and soft toys work well. Chewing is most effective when the object is cold and numbs the gums. Keep a supply of teething objects in the refrigerator but not the freezer. Too cold can be uncomfortable.
* Loss of Appetite – babies may refuse to eat because the suction of nursing or bottle-feeding may make the baby’s sore gums feel even worse. Those eating solid foods might also refuse to eat when they are teething. If they refuse to eat more than a few days, you should contact the pediatrician.
* Ear Pulling/Cheek Rubbing – gums, ears and cheeks share nerve pathways so an ache in the gums may travel elsewhere. However, babies with ear infections will also pull on their ears, so check with the pediatrician if you suspect your baby is experiencing something more than just teething.
Please note that the type and severity of the above symptoms vary widely from baby to baby. Some babies will have a lot of pain and tears and others will breeze right through the teething process. Parents and caregivers need to be patient, caring, and provide the appropriate tools needed to best support and comfort their baby. Extra hugs, kisses and cuddling may prove helpful!!
The Fall-time session of MCH’s Discover Me Program was a huge success with five mothers and their infants attending. It was wonderful getting to know one another as we explored the meaning of the Montessori philosophy and how it directly facilitates respect and independence in children.
The Discover Me classroom was thoughtfully set up to be beautiful and stimulating for the infants. The materials were specifically chosen to promote growth in all domains of development. Infants thoroughly enjoyed exploring the variety of materials in the environment and especially liked climbing the foam climbing ramp apparatus. The infants radiated so much pride when they independently reached the top of the ramp!
Mothers observed their infants interacting with me and the other infants and they remained available to offer reassurance and guidance when needed. They also participated in valuable group discussions pertaining to child development and shared stories about personal parenting experiences. Our discussions included topics such as bedtime rituals, the importance of sleep, pacifier use and preparation and readiness skills for a toddler program. We also discussed the importance of observation; learning ways parents can encourage their children to be independent and respectful, and much, much more.
Group time seemed to be the highlight of each class as the children and parents responded joyfully to singing, finger plays, clapping, and story time. A version of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and “Open, Shut Them” were favorite songs. We had a lot of fun. It was such a treat for the adults to see the older infants dancing, clapping and laughing!
I was so pleased with the outcome of the Fall-time Session of the Discover Me program. Parents truly grasped the key elements of the Montessori philosophy and healthy, joyful relationships were fostered.
I am pleased to announce that the Winter Session is full. If you or anyone you know is interested, we will be offering a Spring-time session that will begin in April.
“Reading aloud and talking about what we're reading sharpens children's brains. It helps develop their ability to concentrate at length, to solve problems logically, and to express themselves more easily and clearly.” -Mem Fox
Early language and literacy development continually evolves, beginning at birth, through the interactions a child has with others and the environment in which he lives. Literacy development involves communication, which includes listening, speaking/signing, reading and writing.
The child’s earliest experiences set the stage for the development of literacy. It is through every day activities and communication with real people (not screen time) that children learn and practice the literacy skills of listening, speaking/signing, reading and writing.
Books and stories are a critical link to the development of literacy and will be the major focus of this article. It is very important that children be exposed to books and that parents talk and read to their children at a very young age. Books are extremely instrumental for a child’s overall development, enhancing his interest in the world through pictures and stories.
During the infant and toddler years, the adult’s interactions with the child are of primary importance in the promotion of literacy development. The following are some guidelines that can be used by adults for sharing books:
• Read to your children everyday even if only for a few minutes. Bedtime is a good time to do so.
• Have fun when you read to children because they will learn from you that reading is fun.
• Talk or sing about the pictures in the book.
• Choose books that are fun and appropriate for each child’s developmental level.
• Books with simple, large, colorful pictures are best for infants.
• Board books or “chunky” books are stiff and durable making them easier for toddlers to handle.
• Cloth and vinyl books can be mouthed and used in the bathtub.
• Create a small, plastic photo album of family and friends. Young children love to see and hear about those people they trust and love.
• Use books with no words or only a few words on the page.
• Choose books with simple rhymes that are easy to memorize and fun to recite or hear recited.
• Animal books almost always delight children.
• Books about shapes, colors, numbers, sizes, seasons, transportation vehicles and the alphabet are all good choices.
• Share books that have familiar pictures of objects – such as balls, bottles, babies, shoes, coats and cars.
• Run your finger along the words as you read.
• Let children turn the pages.
• Show and talk to children about the cover of the book before reading it.
• Make the story come alive through body movement and voice inflection.
• Point to and name pictures in the book.
• Ask the children to point to pictures that are named. Such as, “Point to the ball” or ask them “Where is the ball?”
• Use the book to engage in conversation.
• Let children try to read familiar books to you. Once they can talk, they usually love to tell stories and are often creative about doing so.
• Go to the library on a regular bases and allow toddlers to choose some books.
I guarantee that you will never regret the time you spend reading to your children. They will connect emotionally with you as well as learn that books teach them new things about their world. They will learn that reading is fun!
In closing, I would like to invite you to attend the Scholastic Book Fair at Montessori Children’s House, which is happening between December 3rd and December 9th. Bring your children and allow them to choose books too!
You can also order books online from November 30th thru December 13th if you are unable to attend.
Book Fair Hours:
• Saturday December 3, from 10-12
• December 5-9; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday- 12:00-1:30, 3:30-5:30, Wednesday- 12:00-4:00
Fall is such a wonderful time of year in the Pacific Northwest! The crisp air, colorful leaves, bright orange pumpkins growing in fields, apples adorning trees, pumpkin spice lattes and the sweet smells in the kitchen all add to the joy of the season.
Fall time can also be a very special time for infants and toddlers as they discover just what makes the season so different from summer. They look outside and explore with a sense of wonder and curiosity and are eager to learn. The following are some ideas that can help you teach your infants/toddlers about this beautiful time of year.
Read books with Fall-time themes
Reading aloud to infants/ toddlers is a great way to capture their attention and teach them new things. There are many fall time board books to choose from.
Here are a few good ones:
• Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills
• The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Safari’s
• Welcome Fall by Jill Ackerman
• Colors by Michael Blake
• My Pumpkin by Lily Karr
Infants and toddlers love to be outside where they can explore and learn about nature and the seasons. So…play, rake leaves, pick apples, and have fun!
• Talk to your toddler about the seasonal changes and why they need to dress differently when they go outside.
• Visit a pumpkin patch and let your child help choose a pumpkin.
• Let your baby watch while you rake leaves or pick apples.
• Place your baby in a pile of leaves and let the exploration begin while you supervise closely.
• Let your toddler help rake leaves using a child-sized rake.
• Let your toddler help place leaves in a bag.
• Kick, jump and roll in a pile of leaves with your toddler.
• Pick up apples that have fallen from trees and place them in a basket.
• Place pumpkins and gourds in a basket for your children to explore.
• Talk about the color, size, shape and texture of pumpkins, gourds and apples.
• Paint pumpkins using non-toxic paint. If your babies are too young, let them watch you paint and then place the pumpkin where they can see it.
• Carve a pumpkin and let your toddlers help scoop pumpkin seeds out of it.
• Use ½ an apple and dip it in paint, and then stamp it on to a piece of paper or surface. Call it “apple art.”
• Allow your toddlers to wash apples, pumpkins or gourds.
• Let your child participate in the kitchen while you cook with pumpkins and apples. They will love helping, smelling and tasting!!
Enjoy the season with your busy little ones!!