This article appears in the April./May 2016 issue of “The Wedge” newspaper. The newest article of my regular column for that paper.
by Drew Beeman
In my work with Toddlers I find that the three “R’s” of early care and learning are very important. They are Relationship, Responsibility, and Redirection. I also find that it is very important to understand their needs, desires, and challenges. I love my job and chosen career, and I delight in watching these little ones explore their world, and discover the inherent magic in it. Well not magic really, but to them it may seem like it. We adults must remember and never forget what it was like when everything was brand new to us.
Young children need secure relationships with the adults in their lives. They need to form attachments with their caregivers. It can be difficult to hand your baby over to others, knowing they have that with you, their parent, but they must form an attachment to their caregivers in order to feel secure in the learning environment. The studies have shown that children need this, most of all, in order to learn, and thrive.
Children need to learn to be responsible as well. I only have three rules or guidelines, they are “be as safe as necessary, people are not for hurting, and things are not for breaking”. We teach them responsibility and independence as we guide them through self help skills, and teach them that people are not for hurting, and to take care of their things. I like to use the words “responsible choices” and “irresponsible choices” when it comes to discipline. I make no moral judgments with terms like “good” and “bad choices”, knowing that these little ones are not bad when they hit, they are just doing what toddlers do. Remember Bam Bam from the Flintstones? He is the perfect depiction of your typical young toddler. That brings us to our next point.
Redirection is the name of the game when it comes to discipline. Discipline is really teaching. “I cannot let you hit your friends but you may hit the pillows”. “You may not pound with our chalk and crayons because they will break, but you may go pound with the hammer and hammer bench”. “You may not throw blocks it could hurt someone, but you may throw the balls”. Do you see how this redirects them to make responsible choices while passing no moral judgments? I know toddlers need to pound, and hit, and throw, and run, and climb, etc.. that is developmentally appropriate behavior for toddlers. I need to provide a safe environment for them to be toddlers and do what toddlers do.
I love to provide toddlers with developmentally appropriate experiences that are diverse, meaningful, and relevant. But also just plain fun! I love creating environments where they can explore, and experiment, and discover as much as possible what the world has to offer. The three “R’s” set the stage for this exploration, and the freedom to play and explore sets the stage for a lifelong love of learning and success.
The stage is set, lights, camera, action! These rich experiences must become attached to words in order to foster the development of language in toddlers. Every parent will be delighted to know that tantrums become reduced as language is learned and used. As the adults around them narrate their experiences, the children begin to associate words with their contextual meanings. We know that their receptive language, comes before their expressive language. They understand us even if they cannot yet speak. They usually begin to speak, as we encourage them and use language in fun and meaningful ways.
I have had the pleasure of hearing many of the toddlers in my care begin to speak, and sing. It usually starts when we have our gathering time and sing their favorite songs and perform finger plays. We actually do pretty much the same songs and finger plays every day, repetition is the key. Then it progresses to random expressions during play. Helping them “use their words” usually solves conflicts, helps them self-regulate their emotions, and thus contributes to their social and emotional development. Social and emotional development is the most important focus for school readiness and lifelong success.
Being a male caregiver and educator has it’s challenges as I am sure you can imagine, but I know that I play a necessary role in the lives of these children. Some of the leaders in the field of child development and early care and learning are men. Jean Piaget laid the foundation for our field, Dr. Brazelton has taught us so much about infants and toddlers, Harvey Karp taught (at least me) how to have the “Happiest Toddler on the Block” and that Bam Bam was the archetype for toddlers, and Dan Hodgins teaches us more appropriate discipline techniques, especially with boys, and “Teacher Tom” Hobson has a great blog about discovery and progressive education. I have plenty of female influences as well, my friend and mentor Lisa Murphy, Galinsky, Skenazy, and Hirsh-Pasek to name a few.
I chose this career because of the wonderful childhood I had, knowing that many others suffer in childhood. I chose this because I love watching children grow and learn. I chose this because it is the only thing I am good at. I chose this career because I want a better future for humanity.
Drew Beeman is founder and director of Progressive Early Learning. For more information about learning through play and about Progressive Early Learning, visit www.ProgressiveEarlyLearning.com.