Carefully arrange a blanket on the floor. Add an array of interesting toys that babies can bang, shake, and poke. Place two babies who are not yet mobile on their tummies on the blanket. Be sure that they can reach the toys. In this position, they are more likely to become interested in watching each other "experiment" with the toys. They can smile and giggle together.
Be prompt when meeting the needs of infants in distress. By 12 to 18 months, babies become "securely attached" to you when you are quick to respond in a nurturing way to signals of distress. When stressed, babies are more likely to reach for you, or crawl over to your lap, or reach their arms out to be picked up. They trust that once they have your attention, you will be able to figure out what is bothering them and provide just what is needed. Research shows that babies who have developed this secure feeling of trust for their teachers are far more likely to cooperate with adult requests compared with "insecurely attached" infants. Securely attached babies also grow up to play in more friendly and accommodating ways with their peers when they enter preschool.
Babies look to their teachers for social cues. For example, if you stand at one end of a table behind a new wind-up toy (which a baby might perceive as scary), a crawling 10-month-old will look up from the other end of the table and scan your face to see whether he should crawl toward the toy or turn back. Babies use this "social referencing" technique to figure out what is scary or okay in their world. Act cheerful and calm so that a baby learns more comfortably to accept new foods, new playmates, and new experiences.
Toddlers love to imitate each other, so be sure to have several items on hand that are the same or similar. This way, toddlers can play a game together rather than separately. If one toddler starts to throw a yam ball into a plastic tub, then other toddlers will want to throw yarn balls into the tub too. Provide toy sun umbrellas or toy wrist bells sewn on a wide piece of elastic. Then start a marching song. Each child can carry an umbrella or shake his hand to make the wrist bells ring out as they all march in a circle together.
Remind toddlers clearly and gently of your rules (keep them few and simple). This process of socialization helps children fit into the group more easily. "No hitting," "No grabbing a toy someone is playing with," and "Say please when you ask another for a toy" are rules that will help grease the social wheels and promote toddler enjoyment in playing together. Toddlers learn social rules and values as you interact with them, so model the words and actions you want toddlers to use to enhance their social skills with each other. Be generous with time as toddlers master new skills. Be patient as they struggle with taking off a shoe or using a spoon so that they, in turn, learn patience. Cheer them on by telling them how much you enjoy seeing them play with one another.
Talk for the shy child or toddler who cannot yet express wishes with words. "Harry, Judith would love you to take her teddy bear for a ride in your wagon. Can you stop at our station so Judith can get her teddy bear on board? Thank you, Harry!"
Use the "magic triangle" technique. When a toddler is uncomfortable with direct person-to-person interactions, make an activity really interesting so that the adult and child both focus on what is going on. This will help children who are fairly new to your program feel comfortable.