Activities that Match Interests & Learning Levels
In order to find out more about each infant's interests, cautiousness, and enthusiasms in relating to your program components, introduce one new activity at a time.
If you are trying a new activity, such as peek-a-boo, be sure that you have built a tender, personalized relationship with the infant. Sometimes a game that an infant accepts well from a familiar person causes distress if played by someone the infant is just getting to know and trust.
A baby just getting introduced to books will adjust far more comfortably if you start by reading cloth and plastic books with feely textures. The baby will be interested in feeling the cloth or pulling on the piece of elastic on a page. Such enticements mean that he may be able to attend to the books a bit longer. Be sure to snuggle the infant on your lap as you introduce picture book sharing activities. If you choose picture books with dear and familiar images, this new experience will be less likely to be overstimulating.
When you want to encourage reaching and exploring skills, put the baby on his tummy on a firm, warm surface. Place a few interesting toys that are safe to mouth nearby but just a bit out of reach. Include a shake-shake toy such as a rattle. Then, if the infant does succeed in capturing the toy, he can do something to prolong his learning.
Sometimes you may choose a book or an activity that is just right for an infant's developmental level. But the infant may be teething, or missing a parent who has been away on a business trip for several days. Your sensitivity to the infant's signals of fatigue or "lonesomeness" means that you have a better chance of choosing the right level of stimulation for him. Keep in mind that an infant who has napped fitfully may not be as ready to start a new game. Choose a more familiar game. Another time, when he is fresh and rested, you can introduce that brand new toy.
Use your deep personal knowledge of each infant to make a reasonable decision: Is this baby "ready" or not ready for the new game I have planned? Have I balanced newness and familiarity so that I can keep the baby's interest and not overload him? If you see a baby getting frustrated with trying, be sure you are ready to drop down and offer some supportive help. Many year-old babies love to run a toy choo-choo train on the floor or on wooden tracks you have put together. If the infant is frustrated at lack of wrist control, a light touch of your hand to guide her hand and a cheerful exclamation of joy as she gets the choo-choo moving forward will restore her zest for the game.
The appearance of too much food or drink can be discouraging for a toddler. Some toddlers get discouraged when too much new information is rushing at them. She may not even try a grilled cheese sandwich when it is sitting like a big blob on the plate. Just watch that same toddler's reaction when you make a "game" of cutting the sandwich in four tiny squares. See how much more easily she is now willing to tackle chewing on each of the squares. And the word square will fascinate her too! Also, offering a little juice at a time makes it possible for her to finish a full glass.
Introducing new activity ideas in little "bites" can also be helpful. If puzzles with too many pieces are a problem, start off by using sticky tape to keep some of the puzzle pieces in place. With fewer pieces to insert, tackling the puzzle board feels easier to the young toddler.
Once a toddler finds that she enjoys a simple task, express your pride and pleasure with her early successes. Next time, you might want to increase the challenge of the task before you modify it or offer more of your help.
When you help a toddler, try just a small amount of physical assistance first so he still feels victorious and successful. For example, if a child seems worried about walking on a balance beam that is a few inches off the floor, smile to show your encouragement. Then take his hand gently as you stand at the side of the beam and let him feel as though he is walking across the beam almost on his own.
Stacking and nesting blocks present fascinating challenges for young toddlers. Sometimes they even get the idea of building higher to make a taller tower. But toddlers may be short on the coordination needed to do this. As a toddler sits on your lap to build, maybe you notice that he is not reaching his arm up high enough to fit a stacking block on top of others. Be sure you cup his elbow with a firm gentle hold so that his arm is boosted upward. How successful he feels as he manages to build his stacking tower ever higher!
Suppose a toddler is sleepy and cranky after eating. He doesn't feel like cooperating when he is supposed to put his used plate on the tray. Reassure him that soon you are going to wash him up all nice and clean. Explain slowly that first he will put his plate away. Point cheerfully to the tray as you talk. As you walk him through verbally, use a gentle, cheerful "reminding" voice. Then keep your promise as you help the toddler by making washup with warm soapy water a relaxing reward for his having cooperated in cleanup.
Some toddlers can manage to push the pedals on a trike long before their peers. Others clearly use words like "Stop that!" or "My toy!" while having a small toy tussle with a classmate. Don't expect all the children to be at the same level of cognitive, social, physical, or language development.
As you notice each child's unique interests, abilities, and skill level, you will be able to tailor the requirements of each activity to particular children. Sometimes we don't make exactly the right judgment. Be patient with yourself. Most of the time, you will manage to match the level of stimulation for each child to just about the right level.