DEVELOPMENT

0 to 2 "TOY MAKE NOISE!" by Carla Poole

Tara's teacher watches as the infant smiles in her sleep. The teacher wonders, "What is Tara thinking about?"

Recent advancements in imaging technologies offer more information about how a baby's brain works and develops. And this research is confirming what we already knowloving relationships are the most important ingredient for growth and development.

Reading Cues

Babies let us in on their needs through their behavior. An alert facial expression and relaxed body tell us that a baby is ready to interact. Sometimes subtle cues, such as looking away or turning her head, tell us she needs a time-out. When a baby collects herself and turns to engage once more, she is ready to learn more about the people and things in her world.

Actions Cause Reactions

Infants quickly begin making connections between their actions and corresponding reactions. When a 4-month-old notices that a toy makes a sound if she bumps it with her arm, she bumps it again, making the sound reoccur. The baby is not thinking, "I wonder if that sound will happen if I bump the toy again." This is sensorimotor thinking, in which a physical action, like batting an arm, is linked to sensory input, such as hearing a sound.

The Drive to Explore

A baby is motivated by an innate need to know "What is this thing?" Six-month-old Alisa sees an interesting red toy about two feet away from her. She begins to bob her head, kick her legs, and wave her arms. She manages to wiggle a few inches toward the toy. Her teacher wonders, "What should I do? Give her the toy?" The baby continues to squirm and grunt her way toward the toy. It's so hard to resist helping her! But the teacher waits and the baby's face lights up when she finally reaches the toy. This positive sense of self gives a baby the energy to develop her thinking skills.

Combining Ideas

Young toddlers advance from wondering "What is this?" to "What happens when ...?"

For example, a baby will pull on a tablecloth just because it's there and she wants to examine it. An 18-month-old will still pull on a tablecloth, the drive to explore is so strong, but he will also pull on the cloth to get at a toy placed on it. Gradually, thinking becomes more purposeful. I do this to get that. With increased recall and imitation, the child strings together actions to solve a problem.

Learning About Permanence

Gradually, the toddler develops a better understanding about the permanence of people and things. People do go away, but they are out there somewhere and will return. Strong feelings get attached to this thought. For instance, a 2M-yearold might refuse to go to the play yard because "Papi won't know where I am!" Nothing will convince her that Papi will know where she is if she doesn't remain in the same place he left her. This illogical reasoning makes sense to her.

The Drive to Learn

A well-rested, self-confident toddler has an almost limitless capacity to wonder. Engaging sensory activities like painting feed this drive and stimulate thinking. Although toddlers are known for quickly moving from one activity to another, they are able to stay with something for extended periods if it taps into their way of learning.

What You Can Do

  • Gently imitate a baby's vocalizations and actions. Eventually, she will follow your lead. This helps build imitative skills, which are important for learning.
  • Play hiding games to build object permanence.

 

3 to 4 "WHAT'S UNDER THERE?" by Susan A. Miller, Ed.D.

Paula and Jill, both 3 years old, keep looking at the manhole cover on the playground. Nervously, they ask their teacher, "Do you think a real mean monster lives under there?" A few minutes earlier, the same girls expressed curiosity about a dog. They wondered, "Why does the dog have sharp teeth? Can it get us?"

Wondering About Scary Things

Three-year-olds have a particular fascination with scary things. They frequently wonder about what is real or makebelieve, like a monster or the dog. They often need reassurance from others, such as from their teachers or parents, before exploring what seems scary.

Still a bit egocentric, 3s are inclined to wonder about things related to themselves, such as their bodies and their families. A great observer, Adam wonders what's under the scab on his leg. As he hesitantly picks at it, he says, "Yuck!" when he sees the blood appear.

Wondering About How Things Work

Threes frequently fixate on their wonderment. Intrigued by how things work, Josh gets excited about exploring a pulley type of apparatus. He uses it like a crane, to pull up the heavy lid of the sandbox. Josh is so delighted with his discovery that he does it over and over again, learning from his repetitions. Because 3s like to talk about their curiosity, he enjoys describing to his teacher what he's doing.

Wondering About Origins

During lunch, several 4-year-olds wonder where butter comes from. Knowing that 4s love surprises, their teacher suggests they place some cream in a clear jar, screw on the lid, and take turns shaking it. They have great fun watching the changes take place right before their eyes and using their senses to describe, predict, and document what has happened as the agitated cream turns to butter.

Wondering About the World Around Them

Ever curious, 4-year-olds wonder about the world around them. They are full of questions! They have an intense desire to know what the adults in their lives are up to. As their school is being painted, several 4-year-olds ask the painters a barrage of questions: "What are you doing?" ""Why are you using those long handles?" When the painters move to the second-story level, the children call out the window, "How did you get up here?" Fours build their confidence and feel very important when they are in the thick of things.

What You Can Do

  • Be supportive. When children create a mess exploring as they mix, pound, and pour, let them know it's OK and make it easy for them to clean up (provide sponges, mops, towels). When things don't turn out the way the children want, encourage them to try again to find the answers.
  • Please touch. Set out lots of interesting materials to arouse curiosity. Offer things like seashells and strips of colored cellophane. Promote excitement with theme-related props (a veterinarian's equipment, such as a stethoscope, bandages, wooden depressors, along with stuffed animals).

Special thanks to the children and teachers at Mary Johnson Child Care Center in Middlebury, Vermont, and Kutztoum University of Pennsylvania Early Learning for sharing their ideas about wonderment.

 

5 to 6 "I WONDER HOW THIS WORKS!" by Ellen Booth Church

As the early afternoon sun warms the playground, kindergartners are excitedly exploring nature. Children armed with mini microscopes and magnifiers are taking a close look at leaves and webs. Jeremy and Jodell call their teacher over to see ants purposefully marching along carrying little specks of food down into their mound. "I wonder what ants eat," Jodell says. "Do you think they eat what we eat?" Tuning in to children's curiosity, the teacher says, "Why don't we put out small pieces of different foods we have in school and see what the ants take."

There is so much to wonder about in the springtime. The natural world is waking up and you can almost smell the sense of wonder in the air. New plants push out of the sidewalk, dew gently catches on the thin filament of spiderwebs, tiny bugs start to move. The richness and complexity of the natural world provides an ideal "playground of wonder" for kindergartners.

Increasing Awareness

Five- and 6-year-olds are at the perfect stage in development to appreciate the wonder of nature. They have been slowly expanding their view of the world around them. No longer totally egocentric, they are now aware of other people, places, and things in a way that makes the natural world appear new. Socially, 5s and 6s are starting to see that the world does not revolve around them. The interesting byproduct of this sense of community is a greater curiosity about the natural world.

Working Together

Children at this stage love to explore the wonders of the world together. They find that sharing the joy of discovery with a friend or adult makes the wonder that much more wonder-full! If you are sending children out to explore nature, try sending them in pairs. They will enjoy teaming up to share their investigations and findings.

Observing and Recording

Kindergartners' expanded ability to observe and record investigations makes this a perfect time to introduce field drawings and recordings. This is possible now because 5- and 6-yearolds are developmentally ready to bridge the gap between concrete experience and abstract representation. They can discover something in the real world and symbolically represent it through drawing, writing, and charting.

Processing Information

In the previous vignette, the teacher encourages the children's wonder about what ants eat by inviting Jeremy and Jodell to create a mini experiment. After putting out a variety of food crumbs, the children will watch and wait, an important part of wonderment that they are just getting old enough to have the patience for! To complete the experience of wonder, she will ask children to complete a picture graph with a column of the foods the ants ate and a column for the foods they did not eat. This way, she helps children move through the stages of wonder from questioning to experimenting to observing to, finally, recording their findings.

Noticing Differences

Of course, 5- and 6-year-olds wonder about things other than the natural world. They are becoming very aware of the differences among the people around them. They may notice that a friend's parents look different from the child, or they may notice someone in a wheelchair or with an amputated limb. At this stage of development, children tend to be very vocal about things they wonder about because of their increased ease with language. They can sometimes express their wonder so loudly that it is downright embarrassing for adults. It is important to support children's sense of wonder and answer their questions quickly and honestly while encouraging them to ask their questions quietly. Happily, most people are not put off by these seemingly abrupt and invasive questions. Many actually like to answer children's questions themselves.

Taking Things Apart

Five- and 6-year-olds are also interested in how things work. They like to take things apart to see how they are made. Not surprisingly, they are usually less interested in putting things back together! It is wonderful to provide children with lots of things to safely take apart. Kindergartners may wonder how simple things are made. While drawing one day, a 5-year-old wondered how crayons are made. The teacher took this opportunity to create an experiment by melting old crayon pieces in a double boiler. Children were fascinated with the way the crayons melted when they got hot and noticed how the colors mixed. They wondered what would happen if they mixed several colors together and found out that they got a new color they called mud!

Wonder is a natural part of a young child's life, but it must be supported and encouraged. As a kindergarten teacher, you are responsible for creating a safe environment for creative wondering.

What You Can Do

  • Take time. Wondering takes time and usually happens in an unplanned and spontaneous situation. Be flexible enough to take time away from a planned event to follow children's wondering and creative thinking.
  • Listen. One of the most important ways you can support children's wonder is to listen carefully. At this stage, children need to express their wonder verbally and will often do this in great detail. Listen to all they have to say.