Early childhood professionals benefit from the theory and recommendations for practice developed by leaders in the early childhood field. Now you can, too. Here are six ideas from early childhood theorists and practitioners that may be helpful in your own parenting.
1. Child Development Milestones Follow a Predictable Sequence
Child development milestones usually follow a sequence from head to toe, as well as from the center of the body outward. Children hold up their heads before they hold up their chests. They sit up before they crawl, stand, and later walk. Likewise, children develop strength and control in their arms before in their hands and later fingers.
2. Development Is Unique to Each Child
If you have more than one child, especially if they are close in age, it is best not to compare their development. Children sometimes have “spurts” of development. One child may focus mostly on physical development for a few weeks and not advance much in language skills at the same time, and vice versa. Conversely, one child may advance in language, but not so much physically. Both are “normal.”
3. Environment Matters
Children deserve beautiful, calming, natural environments that have profound, positive effects on their well-being. Early childhood educators from Reggio-Emilia, Italy talk about environment being almost as important as the teachers. Of course it’s easier to control the classroom environment than one at home with many family members living together, but you can try incorporating some of these elements:
- Soft colors and items that induce rest, relaxation, and minimize stimulation.
- Child-sized spaces just for children.
- Periodic changes to and rotation of available play materials.
- Minimal clutter, remembering that children deserve a place of beauty.
- Real materials like small pitchers, cups, or a dust pan and brush that allow children to fully participate and be as independent as possible, drawing from Maria Montessori’s ideas about children working with real objects.
4. Children Learn through Scaffolding
According to Lev Vygotsky’s ideas on scaffolding, and further explored in Jim Greenman’s “Thoughts on Early Childhood,” children construct their own knowledge, but adults, and the social environment, serve as the scaffold or the support that encourages construction of knowledge. The adult’s job is to offer children challenges that are at, or slightly above, their current level while scaffolding as the child attempts something new—by giving a hint, modeling the skill, adapting the materials, or asking open-ended questions.
5. Children Can Solve Their Own Problems
According to infant and toddler specialist Magda Gerber, parents and caregivers should allow children to independently problem solve whenever possible. So, for example, if a baby could get himself into a spot (such as under a chair), he could also get himself out. The parent, watching close by, can say to the baby, “I see you are stuck. Keep trying to get your body out. I’ll be right here close by while you figure this out. I know you can do it.”
6. Children Need Choices
Whenever possible, offer choices to a child, but make sure that either choice is acceptable and can be followed through on. For example, when getting dressed in the morning, ask “Do you want to wear your yellow shirt or your blue shirt this morning?” Or ask, “Do you want to walk to the park or ride in your stroller?” Allowing your child to make choices and following through on your child’s choice is a respectful way to interact but be sure to avoid fashion wars with your child. This approach empowers your child and helps her feel confident in her decision-making.
It is always best to base our parenting on “tried and true” early childhood philosophy and practice. But sometimes the theories are hard to follow and understand. Starting with these six can help you get started.
More Resources on Early Childhood Development
- Although every parent is different, there are many commonalities between parenting styles. Learn about four types of parenting and where you might fit on the spectrum.
- Here are some suggestions for learning games for children of every age that help develop executive functioning skills.
- Learn about the benefits of pretend play for children and how you can create pretend play experiences at home.
- STEM can be integrated into everyday activities at a very early age. Discover STEM activities, books, and games that can get you started and help you set your child up for future success.