Those First Steps
It has been years since a toddler was living in my house!
Recently thanks to social media, I watched a short video of my sweet little great-nephew take some of his early steps to his mother. She was smiling, talking to him, and enthusiastically encouraging him as he took tiny, wobbly steps. When he made it to her outstretched arms, she picked him up, cheered, and kissed him. His father, our nephew, was with us when our son took some of his first steps in a room full of family on Christmas Day. As I look through the photos of my son standing independently and taking those first tentative steps, our family members were just as excited and supportive. What a tremendous experience this is for little ones as they bravely and joyfully take those first tiny steps to the waiting arms of a loved one. The encouragement of loving adults is as important as the new skill itself. Once toddlers walk, they have a new way to explore their environment, revealing what fascinates and brings them joy. Textures, colors, movement, and familiar objects in the home and nature, captivate toddlers. A caring, reflective adult can, with intentionality, support their exploration by adding items of interest to their spaces. Newly mobile toddlers will often transport these items of interest to share with a caregiver. Among other things, my toddler would choose small board books and bring them to me. Along with his blanket, he would plop down on my lap, contentedly listening to the same book over and over while enveloped in a warm snuggle.
This year, Influenza and Covid-19 conspired against me, and I spent much less time with educators than I had imagined I would. During one rare opportunity before the initial closures, I visited a classroom of older toddlers. As I sat on the floor, a child chose a board book from a basket and brought it to me to read. When we finished the book, another child picked her favorite book, and we read it together. Soon there was a small crowd and one by one we read book after book. Each child would eagerly stand close, holding a favorite book, and waiting to plop down and listen. I heard the term “delight-directed” in a state-wide meeting about quality in early childhood, referring to giving children choices. These toddlers were definitely “delight-directed” as they chose their very favorite books from the basket. Their teacher said they would do this all day. The children were comfortable in their space. Their teacher had been intentional about focusing on creating secure relationships with each child. She was nearby as I read to them, and they responded as a community of learners sharing favorite stories with me.
We have all experienced changes this year, and we have been dealing with things that one year ago we couldn’t have imagined. Despite how the pandemic has altered our day-to-day lives, some things haven’t changed. We are still caring for and celebrating the precious infants and toddlers in our families, programs, and community. They still need family and caregivers to play with them, sing and read with them, support their exploration, and be the loving arms they fall into when they have bravely attempted something new. We need to be intentional about providing responsive, affectionate, consistent care, as that foundation supports children’s exploration and learning. It isn’t just young children who need supportive, encouraging relationships when they take risks and explore new opportunities. Be sure to cheer for family members, friends, and co-workers right now, as they all need extra support to grow and thrive, especially with the challenges we are all facing each day.
If you are interested in ideas for working with infants and toddlers, a new publication from NAEYC is an excellent tool for professional learning.
Day to Day, The Relationship Way Caring Responsive Programs for Infants and Toddlers by Donna S. Wittmer and Alice Sterling Honig, is full of encouraging ideas for supporting infants and toddlers through relationship-based practice.
Day to Day, The Relationship Way Caring Responsive Programs for Infants and Toddlers, will be posted on the Wyoming Early Childhood Professional Learning Collaborative website in January 2021.
To further challenge and inspire your work with young children, explore the new podcast series from the Wyoming Early Childhood Professional Learning Collaborative and hosted by Nikki Baldwin, which includes a session with Deb Curtis entitled, The Heart of Teaching Toddlers