Unlike most early milestones, your child will be conscious of his ability as he works towards reading fluency. Whereas before he may not have been concerned about his friends rolling over before him or that he took a few tumbles before his first steps, he now may seem self conscious of his reading performance when compared to his peers. It’s like toilet training all over again as your child weans himself from needing you to connect him to the written language to becoming a fully independent, confident reader.
Toilet training? Yep- stay with me here…
A few years ago I asked our Montessori and Orton-Gillingham certified Primary Director to identify some skills sets which helped her facilitate the reading program for our preschool and Kindergarten aged children. Her list includes: understanding of relationships (what goes together), motivation, focused attention span, visual ability and tracking, persistence, patience, delayed gratification, and normally developed spoken language skills.
These same skill sets were photo documented in a post relating to Diapering and Early Literacy. (Link to Diapering and Early Literacy post)
At the center, we’ve observed a correlation between how your chid approached toilet learning and how she approaches taking on the tasks towards reading mastery. In both, the greatest contributor to your child’s success and self esteem is the relationship she has with the primary adult guiding her in the process.
And in both, the adult can only serve as a guide. We can’t make your child read any faster than he is physically, socially and emotionally prepared to do. But we can do is support him in his understanding of his own capabilities, provide him the security to feel good about his progress, and continue to lay the foundation for his later independent capabilities.
Watch as this teacher helps guide her emerging reader develop the foundational skill set for later reading fluency. How is the child feeling about his capabilities? How are the children proximal to the lesson feeling? Do opportunities exist for other learners to acquire knowledge from the lesson? How about opportunities to learn from peers?
When scaffolding a child at any stage in their development relationships matter most. This child and his Guide have been together three years along with his peer group. They are all invested in his success. As renowned early childhood advocate Magda Gerber would say, “In his own time, in his own way” and with a little help from a friend or two, he is well on his way to mastery.
Cultivating Cooperation with infants and toddlers at home or in center base care requires an investment in time with focus on continuity in routines and relationships. Continuity being the cornerstone.
In center base care, continuity also being the crux.
Unlike its professional counterparts of the 1920s, the early childhood frontline caregiver remains underpaid, under supported, and under valued by the mainstream. As a result, continuity- keeping the early childhood professional happy, fed and resourced in the field- remains the number one challenge in center base care.
Yet, without a stable and reliable primary caregiver spanning the first two or three years, toddlers are less likely to spontaneously cooperate. Why is that important?
Cooperation demonstrates an individual’s sense of belonging to the group (society) by demonstrating that person’s desire to contribute to the betterment of her community. Along Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs, it smacks right at the center.
What does spontaneous cooperation in center base care look like?
Let’s take a look at a group of 8 Early Toddlers ranging in age from 13mths – 19mths as they come together to put on their shoes and venture outdoors under the guidance of their two caregivers. Warning: it’s an almost 10 minute observation, but I’ve had a hard time taking out even a minute, even those first few shoe chomping ones.
“Cooperation is an invitation; otherwise, it’s not cooperation.” -Anna Tardos
Remarkably, even though the door is wide open, each child chooses to stay with the group until all are ready. Although caregivers put shoes on a bit differently, the fluidity of the routine unfolds organically. Limits are tested, then reinforced. The children have free movement, are relaxed, and demonstrate cooperative gestures. At times the adult may need to break from the routine. Yet, she maintains a calm sense of order and control.
Do opportunities for improvement exist? Most certainly- to err is human. However, take a look a the intimacy in the relationship each child is able to enjoy nestled closely with his primary teacher who has been with him all of his infant life. Amazing to witness in center base care. Necessary for the toddler to cooperate without rewards or punishments on her compliance.
Given the time, commitment, and resources any early childhood center has the opportunity to cultivate toddler cooperations from the start- continuity being key.
What works- Small Group Size- children under two years of age should remain in group sizes no larger than eight. Even so, plan for times of the day where the child can break from the group individually and also in smaller groups of four or less.
What doesn’t work- Even an adult/child ratio relatively lower- for example 10 babies and 3 adults- can be less beneficial than a group size with a 1:4 ratio as the larger group overstimulates the infant brain.
What works- Primary Caregiving- dedicate one adult to be the primary caregiver for each child. She should have no more than four children under her supervision. As an advocate and resource to the parent, the primary caregiver should remain consistent over long periods of time.
What doesn’t work- Staggering caregivers or combining groups for before/after care to accommodate extended service times.
What works- Continuity of Relationships- keep the Primary Group of Four together with their Primary Caregiver as they transition through environments while in center base care. This means when a child develops the environment changes to meet that development rather than the child changes environments to meet the development. When transitions from one room to the next become necessary, the child moves with his Primary Teacher AND group of three friends. The longer the infant is with his friends and provider, the more likely he is able to be understood to get his physical needs met, feel safe and secure in a trusting relationship to explore, and then- feel a sense of belonging facilitating his cooperation.
What doesn’t work- Moving children up to the next level when they are ready physically or cognitively without considering his social or emotional needs. Severed relationships over time may inhibit the child from coopering in groups later on.
What works- Support the Early Childcare Provider with the time, resources, and salary enabling her to invest in her profession and be fully present to care for the well-being of infants and toddlers. We recommend the RIE® Foundations course as the precursor for this development. For those working in centers and institutions, Pikler® offers several advance training opportunities in the US and abroad.
What doesn’t work- Low pay, long hours, without opportunity for advancement results in a higher degree of teacher turn over.
What works- Share your experiences with parents. We’ve found coming together at least every quarter instrumental in developing consistency between home and center. A half hour in the morning every three months or so when parent, teacher, and child in primary groups of four connect is all it takes to pull the whole thing together. When parents have a sense of belonging with their center community the feeling is translated and absorbed by their child.
Each day at the center, we involve the children, from young toddlers through Kindergarten, in the process of creating the daily bread which will nourish the community throughout the day for snack.
Challenged by Dr. Angeline Lillard in 2007 to make our Practical Life Area more practical, we seized the opportunity to utilize the young child’s budding independence, order, coordination, self-confidence and love of learning in a way that would fuel all developmental planes.
Regardless of age, race, gender or ability- you will find children gravitating towards the Slow Food Inspired Cooking Curriculum which links not only the program’s gardening, but also the areas of Math and Cultural Studies. Each child has the opportunity to cook every day, throughout the day, as long as an apron is available. If one is not, the child is welcome to watch the process nearby.
Cooking together can become much more than getting a bite to eat- watch as Ms. Jaime begins the morning bread baking routine:
In making bread together, we see evidence of all Eight Principles of Optimal Education described in Dr. Lillard’s research.
According her findings, learning occurs best when:
1. movement is linked with cognition,
2. children are interested in the topic,
3. extrinsic rewards are left out of the mix,
4. choice and control are offered to the child,
5. it is situated in meaningful contexts,
6. children are grouped in blended ages amongst their peers,
7. the environment is orderly with consistent routines and rituals, &
8. the adult guides in a firm and warm manner.
“The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.”
While we may be well-versed on gross motor or language stages of development, the sequence unfolding in a child’s play is often overlooked.
It was Parten in the early 1930s who theorized that children progress through a series of six different types of play sequentially based on their maturity and social experiences. These stages include:
1. unoccupied play
2. solitary or independent play
3. onlooker play
4. parallel play
5. associative play, and
6. cooperative play
The final stage- cooperative play- tends to draw the most attention.
For cooperative play to unfold naturally, the child must be willing and able to let go of his own urges and desires, preferring instead to negotiate a middle ground where two or more may work together towards a common goal.
This is not something that can be taught by an adult. Rather it evolves over an individual’s personal uninterrupted cumulative play experiences with himself, his family, and the groups with which he is associated.
The disagreement in Parten’s Play Stage Theory lies in whether these stages evolve in sequence- for if they were, it would be uncommon to witness something like Toddler Cooperative Play. Cooperative Play activities are often reserved for the more mature elementary age child who has developed the ability to self-regulate to this complexity.
Yet, when children have grown up together in the center under the gentle guidance of a Primary Caregiver, we witness these cooperative play activities much earlier. Toddlers who are not only cared for by one primary adult, but who also have remained in consistent peer groups over an extended time, demonstrate the natural aptitude for cooperative play much earlier than the anticipated six year bench mark.
Without adult pressure to “share” and without redirection to adult guided activities, children supported in free, uninterrupted play activities evolve through the play sequence at a seemingly accelerated rate. This cooperative model amongst peers translates to the child’s desire and interest to work cooperatively with the adult- be it in a caregiving, academics, or simply keeping the classroom peace
“We can hope that men will understand that the interest of all are the same, that hope lies in cooperation. We can then perhaps keep PEACE.”