infants

Place babies on a warm floor surface and place favorite toys just a bit out of reach. Babies will strive to reach for interesting toys. They will be proud of their victory as they stretch and wiggle to get the toys they love to chew on or bang with.

Provide lots of finger foods as soon as babies are ready to chew. Babies take pride in their growing self-feeding skills as you provide cereal, bits of grated cheese, or well-cooked slices of carrot.

When younger babies decide they want to feed themselves but are not quite able to handle a spoon, provide one for them anyway. For a while, you will both be doing the feeding-a mess! But you are protecting babies' growing need to assert their own competence and independence.

Promote independent play by noticing a year-old baby's growing interest in peers. Sit two babies close by one another. Give them toys to play with. Babies become even more independent as they watch what a playmate is doing.

toddlers

Arrange the environment to encourage independence. Wall pegs at child level make it possible for toddlers to hang up their own jackets. Clearly marked areas, such as places to build with blocks, baskets with dress-up clothes, chairs and low tables with art supplies, support toddlers' growing abilities to choose activities and use appropriate materials.

A toddler will frown and say, "Do it myself," even when you know the child cannot yet figure out how to find the right shoe for the matching foot. Offer unobtrusive help. Set each sneaker directly in front of the foot that matches. Ask parents to provide sneakers with Velcro rather than laces so that toddlers gain increasing confidence in their skills and their abilities.

During potty training, teach toddlers how to pull down pants themselves. Provide step stools so they can climb up and wash their own hands.

At meal times, serve food in family-style bowls for toddlers. After you have put food on the plate, if a toddler wants more, she can reach over, use the large spoon you provide, and take more. If you serve tiny pieces of meat, supply small forks so that toddlers can easily spear them. Keep sturdy cardboard and cloth books on low shelves. Provide bean bag chairs, hassocks, or comfortable mats toddlers can sit on in comfort as they "read" the stories by themselves.