THE SECRET OF HIGH-QUALITY INFANT-TODDLER CARE IS TO individualize your program in tune with the needs and interests of each little person in your program. A teacher needs to get to know each baby personally by performing routines such as diapering and feeding leisurely and gently and through playful interactions. This attunement to individual personalities, styles of responding, food and play partner preferences, toy interests, and even favorite picture books demands keen insights and observation skills from each teacher. Yet your reward will be that each infant and toddler in your care will become intimately and securely attached to you and feel totally lovable and cherished!

One baby's signals may be easy to read. He yowls when his tummy is empty and whines in discomfort when his diaper is wet. Another baby waits quietly for you to come and discover his needs. Be proud of your tuned-in appreciation of the different and special ways each infant in your care communicates feelings, needs, and interests. Your sensitivity increases each infant's confidence in your caring ways.

Watch for Clues

Teachers who are good "baby-watchers" soon learn which infant needs a more vigorous pat on the back to bring up a burp. Another baby just needs a gentle circular back rub in order to burp. One baby loves you to string a mobile over his feet as he lies in the crib so he can thrust and kick his legs in triumph as he sets the mobile swinging in the air. Another baby wants to sit in your lap before he feels safe enough to tackle exploring a new toy. One new baby adjusts well to all the new babies in the program. Another infant needs to be carried on your hip for weeks after he is enrolled before he feels at ease.

Some toddlers seem so brave and carefree as they run strenuously all around the play yard. Others hang back and need you to take their hand and lead them to an activity such as a sandbox or rocking horse. A very shy child may even need you to stay awhile until he settles into play before you can move back and attend to the rest of your group.

A somewhat reckless toddler may not seem to need much adult attention. But when he tumbles hard and scrapes his leg, he deeply needs your soothing arms and reassuring words of comfort. Be careful not to insist on too-early independence-your tempo and the timing of interactions should allow each little one the leisure to revel in your nurturance.

One baby may snatch the spoon away from you and try to feed herself, yet still not be dexterous enough to get her food to her mouth without spilling most of it! Be sure to balance your helpful action of feeding her with your support for her urge toward self-feeding. Her skills may be in short supply, so continue to help feed this baby unobtrusively until she practices and gains more wrist control.

Your sensitivity to the different and special ways each child in your care communicates feelings, needs, and interests increases his confidence significantly.

Tricky Transition Times

Transitions are difficult for some little ones. As you get ready for a change-from playing with blocks or drawing with markers to wash up in preparation for lunchtime-some children will feel quite stressed. They find it hard to leave an activity in which they are absorbed. Tune into this need and give extra signals that -soon it will be time to clean up." If a child needs extra support to manage transitions with less fuss, you may want to use music tones or flicking a light switch on the wall as well as your words to prepare that child for the transition.

Figure Out Frustration Levels

Try to determine each child's frustration level. Dance the special dance of the gifted teacher. Be helpful and encouraging, yet not intrusive by "showing" or "doing for" a toddler. One toddler may be struggling to walk while pulling a toy on a string when the toy gets wrapped around a chair leg. Another toddler tries hard to stack blocks but does not line them up carefully and they topple down, over and over. These are challenging tasks in learning coordination and dexterity. Each courageous little learner will succeed if he can count on your special, intimate knowledge of how best to encourage him at a challenging task and yet not allow frustration levels to build up strongly. Your individualized attunement is each child's best guarantee that the help you provide will be "just right" for that particular little person.

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