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4.7: Infant and Toddler Development and Its Facilitation

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    Because everything is new to infants and toddlers, and their brains are developing rapidly, infancy is a unique period of life that calls for unique responses from adults. The ways infants and toddlers think, feel, and function differ somewhat from the ways children in the developmental periods of preschool, middle childhood, and adolescence think, feel, and function.

    Four major aspects of infant/toddler development illuminate the kinds of “basic sensory, social, and emotional experiences” that are “essential for optimizing the architecture of low-level circuits” in the brain. The following four aspects of infant/toddler development call for a special approach to planning and supporting their learning:

    1. Infants follow their own learning agenda as is focused on fundamental competencies that are developed at relatively similar times in their development, including:

    • seek and form relationships with people who will nurture and protect them
    • learn language for the first time in order to communicate
    • construct knowledge of basic concepts such as the relationship between cause and effect and how things move and fit in space
    • master rudimentary small-muscle and large-muscle skills

    So, adults must be there to support this with responsive relationships by interacting with infants and toddlers in ways that best facilitate the children’s learning and development.

    2. Infants learn holistically. This means they take in information continuously, naturally, and fluidly. Although they often focus on one thing at a time, that focus can change quickly. From their actions, interactions, and observations, they pick up all kinds of information that they use to build knowledge and skills. A single interaction can lead to learning about many things in many areas simultaneously.

    Because infants and toddlers learn in a holistic way, they may not always focus on the content area that an adult may wish to emphasize.

    So, if adults structure interaction with the purpose of creating specific outcomes in a particular content area—for example, language or shapes—they will often miss the child’s larger learning experience. Thus, plans to help with infant learning are best created in ways that reflect the child’s openness to all aspects of an experience.

    For Example:

    A teacher may think that crafting a special lesson on colors will result in specific learning about color, but infants do not separate their lessons according to distinct topics. For the infant or toddler, narrowing the focus to the adult’s interest or goal does not match how the child engages in learning. The child’s focus may switch to the part of the interaction that is personally more important, such as the texture of the materials used to display color, the movement of the wrist to transfer the color from brush to paper, the emotional tone used in the interaction, or the social style the adult uses to introduce the activity. From the perspective of the infant or toddler, the lesson (or lessons) learned may end up having nothing to do with colors. Thus, adults can better facilitate learning by attending to the many learning possibilities that exist for an infant or toddler in a particular experience[1]

    Figure 4.12: This child is deeply engaged in spreading around the shaving cream on this transparent easel. Notice the bottles of colored liquid waiting to be explored. If the only focus of this activity was color, what experiences might have been missed?[2]

    3. During the first three years of life, much of a child’s life is organized around issues related to security, exploration, and identity. While children attend to all three issues throughout infancy, each of these issues generally takes center stage at different points in development. As an issue becomes more or less prominent, developmental transitions occur. The child’s behavior starts to change and reflects a new way of organizing experiences.

    Figure 4.13[3]

    4. Infants are in the process of developing their first sense of self and this begins by how others treat them. They receive important information from others.

    So, adults must be really intentional in how they treat infants and toddlers.

    For Example

    They may resist eating food they do not like and judge someone who tries to make them eat such food as mean or unfair. Even when infants resist eating certain foods, they do not consciously judge the person trying to feed them. Instead, they take in the ways they are treated as examples of how things are. They come to expect: “This is the way people feed me”; “This is the way people express emotions”; “These are things that cause people to get yelled at”; “These are the ways to approach people”; and “This is how my curiosity is accepted.” Thus, creating a warm, caring, personal relationship with the infant is more than a nice thing to do; it significantly contributes to a child’s positive sense of self.[4]

    The four aspects of infant development call for teaching and care that is individually adapted to who infants and toddlers are and who they are becoming. Because infants move through distinct developmental periods so rapidly, adults need to respect and be responsive to each child’s learning agenda. Because early learning is holistic, plans to facilitate infants’ learning should reflect consideration of all the domains of development that may be influenced by an experience.[5]

    Figure 4.14: What domains of development do you see here? While the caregiver might be reading a book, the infants are engaged in physical, cognitive and language, and social and emotional development.[6]
    Pause to Reflect

    Based on what you just learned about the four major aspects of infant/toddler development what are some key things to remember when thinking about the kinds of “basic sensory, social, and emotional experiences” that infants and toddlers need?

    This page titled 4.7: Infant and Toddler Development and Its Facilitation is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jennifer Paris, Kristin Beeve, & Clint Springer.