WELCOMING CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

Welcoming Children and Families: A Family Resource Guide

The beginning of this paper explores the importance of early learning, how an understanding of child development and child development theories impact developmentally appropriate practice.  Understanding development also means understanding what typical and atypical development is and how to determine if a child is developing typically or atypically, but it is also important to consider any cultural influences that the child may have that may make them seem as though they are behind or ahead in certain areas of development.  This is also important in considering learning environments as an environment must be created to foster learning and development in all developmental domains, this also includes teacher-child relationships.  Another important relationship is the relationship between the teachers and the family of each child.  Without these relationships teachers and parents can have a difficult time understanding how to support their children.  Lastly, this paper provides resources that are available for families in the local areas between Mountain Home and Boise, Idaho.  

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Personal Introduction

Hello, my name is Brooke Snook.  I grew up and continue to live here, in Idaho, and enjoy the outdoors and many outdoor activities such as hiking and camping.  I have worked with children for over ten years and have always loved it.  I became a toddler teacher because children never cease to amaze me, I love being able to witness and support their development and I feel as though children deserve the best care and support possible and strive to deliver that kind of care.  I am passionate about my work and ensuring the toddlers I care for have high-quality care that supports development and fosters a safe and healthy environment.  I believe that every child and family have a right to confidentiality and respect.  Trust is an important part of any relationships and without respect and confidentiality, trust can be difficult to give.  

Importance of Early Learning

High-quality care is key in providing children with an environment that supports healthy development (Layzer & Goodson, 2006).  Knowledge of how children develop is key in having the ability to support their development through developmentally appropriate practices as it allows for teachers to know what most children within a certain age range typically like and can do (NAEYC, 2009). Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development has four different stages Sensorimotor, Preoperational, Concrete Operational, and Formal Operational.  For ages approximately two through seven in Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development, children are in the preoperational stage of development which means that “…the child is influenced by the environment and understands some basic symbols; egocentrism dominates thinking.” (Groark, McCarthy, & Krik, 2014, table 3.3).  According to this theory, a child’s experiences greatly influence their learning and development and think in a self-centered way.  Knowing this about toddlers helps in creating an environment and teaching approaches rooted in appropriate developmental practices that consider the experiences provided to children and understanding that children in this stage think in an egocentric way.  

Another important theory of child development is Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory.  This theory also involves children learning through experiences but with an emphasis on the importance of social interactions and involvement in cultural practices (Groark, McCarthy, & Kirk, 2014).   In his theory “…Vygotsky argued that children learn by going a step further than their current level of competence… [also knows as] the zone of proximal development…the difference between what a child can do independently and what can be accomplished with adult guidance.” (Groark, McCarthy, & Kirk, 2014).  Teachers can support development through a strategy known as scaffolding, which is challenging a child just passed the point of what they can do with a little adult support.  This knowledge can help teachers in preparing lesson plans based on observations of what the children are capable of accomplishing with a little scaffolding, thus promoting development. 

One way to differentiate between typical and atypical development is through observation and documentation based on developmental milestones and checklists and knowledge of how children typically develop.  By watching children play, interact with others, and observing them experience things, it can tell a lot about where the child is developmentally, but it is also important to understand any cultural impacts that may be playing a role in the child’s play, interaction, and experience.  Culture impacts how children interact emotionally and socially, and is key in learning these skills, “Individual differences research also shows that although children gain an understanding of mind during early childhood, the developmental timetable for ToM [theory of mind] depends on several environmental factors related to family and sibling interactions.” (Shahaeian, Nielsen, Candida, & Slaughter, 2014, pg. 556).  Because of this, understanding a child’s culture is an important part in understanding why a child may seem to be behind or ahead in certain areas of development.  Family conversations are crucial in gaining this understanding as the family can share their particular beliefs and culture that influence home life for the child. 

Environment

Figure 1. Visual layout of classroom environment

This environment encourages development in many ways.  There are designated areas for different types of play, a dramatic play area, a puzzle and manipulative area, a block area, an art and science, a music area, and a library/quiet play area.  Each area encourages development through play and interaction.  As children interact in small groups with each other and with teachers they learn social and emotional skills, language skills, thinking skills, self-help skills, and develop physical skills.  This learning environment supports development in all developmental domains, specific examples of how each domain is supported is listed below:

Cognitive: To support cognitive development children are allowed to try things on their own first, as long as it is safe, allowing them to practice problem-solving strategies and expand their thinking skills.  Also, when teachers do step in, it is to help scaffold what the child already knows to encourage them to push themselves to learn and do something new and challenging.  Since toddlers are beginning to sort things by a category such a shape or color, find hidden objects, follow simple directions, and engage in pretend play (Groark, McCarthy, & Kirk, 2014), the learning environment is full of materials that encourage cognitive development such as puzzles, books, and shape sorters, along with games like Simon Says and scavenger hunts. 

Social/Emotional:  It is a classroom policy that teachers are to regulate their own emotions to model self-regulation for children, this also means that teachers approach children calmly and in a respectful way.  When children present strong emotions, teachers can aid them in regulating their emotions by giving them appropriate ways to express emotions and help children sort out the cause or causes of those emotions through helping them find words to express emotions and guiding them through conflict resolution.  Areas like the dramatic area can also help children develop social skills through pretend play and interaction with each other.  “Play and unscheduled time that allow for peer interactions are important components of social-emotional learning” (Ginsburg, the Committee on Communications, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, 2007, para 7). 

Positive behaviors are reinforced by acknowledging the behavior and expressing why it is a positive behavior.  Challenging behaviors are also acknowledged, in a calm manner with an explanation of why that behavior is unacceptable.  Expectations are clear and simple rules are maintained.  Aside from discussing why a behavior is not acceptable, challenging behavior also has consequences, such as if a child hits another, they will be responsible for getting an icepack or will be encouraged to check on the child to make sure they are okay.  Although the consequences may not directly affect the child who displayed the behavior, they can see how their choice affected the other child or children, teaching empathy.  

Language: Describe ways to promote the communication/language development among all children including dual language learners.  Children learn language skills through interactions with each other and teachers and through activities such as being read to.  Children learn through observing and doing and hearing words is one way to teach children language skills, the more words they hear the better, so talking and reading to children can have a large impact on language development (Shrier & Michigan State University Extension, 2017). The library is also full of books for children to look at and be read to them and shelves are labeled with words and pictures to expose children to written language as well as help children who are still learning English on top of their home language (HeadStart, 2018).  For children who are dual language learners, words from both languages are used by caregivers and if possible, aspects of their home culture are incorporated in the classroom to help foster a sense of belonging and understanding.  

Physical: Children are provided with multiple opportunities to develop physical skills.  Fine motor development is encouraged through many activities such as art, puzzles, self-help boards, and stringing beads.   These activities help children develop the smaller muscles that are needed for the development of the tripod grasp (Groark, McCarthy, & Kirk, 2014).  For large muscle development outdoor play and indoor activities are provided to help children release energy and develop their large muscle groups.  When inclement weather does not allow outdoor play, shelves and rugs can be moved to provide a safe area for children to be more active.  Games like Red Light, Green Light allow children to run, which helps in muscle development, and learn about following directions.  

Families

Families are a crucial part of a child’s life and can be essential in supporting that child and their development.  Parents can be a teacher’s greatest asset as they provide crucial information about their child’s life.  “Because parents are the constant in a child’s life, they often are in the best position to determine the needs (i.e., educational, social, behavioral) of their child (Valle, 2011).” (Hsiao, Higgins, & Diamond, 2018, pg. 45).  Parents also have the ability to give their child any outside support they may need from sources outside of school and daycare, like medical support and therapist support.  Families see a side of the child’s life that teachers do not see, and when good communication is involved between families and teachers, teachers can use information from the family, along with classroom observations, to design activities and come up with strategies that are specific to that individual child’s needs.  

Parents are provided the opportunity to have a daily communication log filled out for their child by the teachers every day which informs them of how the child ate, slept, and acted throughout the day as well as any needs the child may have.  Teachers also engage in daily conversations where families are updated on their children’s day and any concerns can be addressed during this time or during a family conference where the teacher and family meet outside of the classroom to discuss the child and any concerns more in-depth.  Parents also have access to all records of their child, including the weekly or biweekly observations recorded by teachers.  

By having regular conversations with children and their families it is easier to have a good idea about what each child’s home life is like.  Understanding what a child is going through at home or any struggles that the family may be going through can give insight as to how to help and support the child and family.  By having a good relationship with children and their families it is also easier to see any changes that could signal an underlying issue or be the root cause of certain new challenging behaviors.  There are also many resources available for teachers and families to help in difficult situations, some of which are listed below. 

Family Resources:

  • Airman and Family Readiness Center.  Phone: (208) 828-2458.  Website: https://mhafbfun.com/directory_listing/airman-family-readiness-center/.
  • Boise Certified Translation Services.  Contact information: (208) 254-7288, translate@boise-certified-translator.com, https://www.001-translations.com/c_132/contact.html. 
  • Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Infant Toddler Program.  Contact information: Phone (208)587-906, Fax (208) 587-5024.  Website: https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/Children/InfantToddlerProgram/tabid/4120/Default.aspx. This agency provides programs and support for families of children three and under who have and developmental delays or disabilities.     
  • Idaho Parents Unlimited Inc. Phone: (208) 342-5884 Fax: (208) 342-1408   Email: parents@ipulidaho.org.  Website: https://ipulidaho.org/contact-us.  This agency provides resources and education to the families of children.  They provide classes  that help parents and families learn how to help their children and get them any necessary support they may need.

Conclusion

Providing an environment that supports development involves many different factors each of which is important, from teachers understanding what is appropriate development for a child from one to three years-olds, to physical environmental influences, to interactions with others, and family involvement.  Having a knowledge of how children develop means teachers can determine what is typical or atypical development and provide developmentally appropriate support for children.  An understanding of child development also helps teachers set up classroom environments which are also developmentally appropriate for toddlers.  A good classroom environment supports all domains of development with toys, materials, and furniture that are all appropriate for toddlers which are determined through knowledge of child development and teacher observations to determine what each child’s individual needs may be.  Families also provide invaluable information about their children and working as a team, teachers and families can provide coordinated support in development.  Communication between families and teachers is important on both ends and without it, the child and their development can suffer, thus the importance of good teacher-family relationships is crucial along with providing families with support which can, in turn, support their child.  All of these factors help teachers complete the whole picture for supporting a child’s development and allow them to provide excellent care for each child.

References

Ginsburg, K. R., the Committee on Communications, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (2007, January). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1). Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182

Groark, C. J., McCarthy, S. K., & Kirk, A. R. (2014). Early child development: From theory to practice. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

HeadStart. (2018, July 16). Highlights for teaching children who are dual language learners (DLLs). Retrieved from Head Start ECLKC: https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/culture-language/article/highlights-teaching-children-who-are-dual-language-learners-dlls

Hsiao, Y.-J., Higgins, K., & Diamond, L. (September/October 2018). Parent empowerment: Respecting their voices. Teaching Exceptional Children, 51(1), 43–53. Retrieved fromhttps://doi-org.proxy-library.ashford.edu/10.1177/0040059918790240

NAEYC. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8.  Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/position-statements/PSDAP.pdf

Layzer, J. I., & Goodson, B. D. (2006). The “quality” of early care and education settings: Definitional and measurement issues. Evaluation Review, 30(5), 556. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=22587178&site=eds-live&scope=site

Legare, C. H., & Harris, P. L. (2016, May/June). The ontogeny of cultural learning. Child Development, 87(3), 633-642. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=0&sid=416524ca-d842-4ae0-b9a1-69301f691586%40sdc-v-sessmgr01

Shahaeian, A., Nielsen, M., Candida, P. C., & Slaughter, V. (2014). Cultural and family influences on children’s theory of mind development: A comparison of Australian and Iranian school-age children. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 45(4), 555-568. Retrieved from https://journals-sagepub-com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/0022022113513921Shrier, C., & Michigan State University Extension. (2017, October 12). The importance of talking to your children. Retrieved from Michigan State University https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_importance_of_talking_to_your_children.

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