CHILDREN VARY A GREAT DEAL IN TERMS OF THEIR NEED FOR stimulation. Some children tire easily. Others have huge reservoirs of energy. Some feel overstimulated by a room colorfully decorated with lots of artwork and posters. Others need a quiet space, an individual lap, and low noise levels in order to concentrate on a new task or cognitive challenge in the classroom. Your perceptive observation skills will help you determine the unique learning needs of each child in your program.

Teacher Tempo Counts

Some teachers are full of enthusiasm and bounce. This teacher style may fit well with a baby who is touching, reaching, bouncing, and vocalizing a lot. A slower tempo, a quieter voice, and low, reassuring tones may be just the right way to encourage a shy baby who is working hard to coordinate reaching and looking. Hold the baby on your lap and put one shiny, metal spoon just a bit out of her reach. Feeling securely held on your warm lap and hearing your calm tones, she will give that extra leaning forward push with her body that will allow her to clutch the spoon and happily bring it to her mouth.

If you had placed a variety of toys in front of that little one, the overstimulating visual array might have caused too much distraction. If you had not attended to her special need for clear stimulation without table clutter, she may not have succeeded in reaching for the spoon-nor would she have crowed with delight!

Observing Individual Differences

Your perceptive interpretation of the body language of each child helps you provide more successful learning experiences that do not overload the infant's or toddler's emotional and sensory systems.

What body parts of the baby or toddler will give you the clearest signals about such overload? Babies often frown or look worried if a task is too much for them. They may even begin to cry, as their emotional frustration or tension builds up too high. Watch for very sober looks or anxious scanning of your face, indicating that the baby feels too much is being asked of her at one time. More patience and a slower pace may help that baby feel more comfortable with a new activity. Of course, sometimes an infant is quite ready for a new learning experience, but she might be having tummy gas pains or she needs more sleep because she was up teething all night.

Toddlers, too, give us ample signals of when they feel on overload. However, their signals may differ wildly! Some toddlers shut down and seem uninterested, or they avoid looking at us. Some find a task too frustrating. Imperiously, they sweep the new busy box you put on the high chair to the ground rather than try to investigate it. Some toddlers are vigorous in showing that they are unable to handle the task requirement. They yell "No!" and throw down the toys.

Some toddlers who are not used to cozy book reading at home, may, at first, just turn away or even run away from a book sharing session. Put on your best detective thinking cap! Is this toddler too immature for a story of more than a few pages? Is the subject too strange for his life experience? Some toddlers may love a story about an alligator and be ready to relate the tale to other stories about animal friends. Another child may find the idea too overstimulating because he stayed up late watching a TV program meant for older children in which alligators were shown as dangerous creatures.

Your good judgment is going to be your best guide. Ask yourself:

  • Is the child ready for this new experience, but just now there are too many distractions, too many other choices available?
  • Is the activity, which others in your group are taking to with zest and curiosity, just too uncomfortable as yet for this child?
  • Do you need to spend more "intro" time to get the little one used to the new activity through your words, your genuine, focused personal attention, and your careful planning?

As you hone your observation skills, you will become a better judge of just how well you have matched the level of challenge to the baby's ability to handle the activity.

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