Infant: Mini Provocations

Students often ask me for list of infant learning experiences they could use on placements. This post is dedicated to students that are seeking to be inspired, take risks and dive deeper into learning experiences for infants.

“Absolutely everything is something to explore and wonder at when experiencing it for the first time!”

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To get you started, take a look at some of the inspirational work I’ve collected from various childcare programs (Source: Tinker Tots Discovery Atelier). I am in awe at such professionalism, care that has gone into thoughtfully and intentionally planning activities for infants.

I hope that you feel as inspired as I was by the beautiful work of the educators.

In Reggio thinking there is a belief that the environment is the “third teacher” and that it is crucial to provide children with plenty of natural light, space for movement, stimulation and access to open-ended play resources. For babies and young children it is important that these are highly tactile and varied so that they can investigate them using their primary way of interacting with the world; the senses.

I am continually moved to create play spaces for infants inspired by Reggio principles, that encourage independent play, interaction with stimulating materials and curiosity about the world.

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As educators we set out play objects purposefully and deliberately and give children loads of time and space to explore and experiment we are respecting children’s play urges, and giving them the opportunity to grow in self mastery.

So MUCH POTENTIAL FOR: gathering, dumping, transporting, mixing, rolling, posting and more in these simple ideas. All that from cardboard tubes, paper carry bags and tissue boxes! Who’d have thought?

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Safe tastes, hands on exploring and tactile investigating

Play together to increase the opportunities for sharing and communicating as they explore and make this a special bonding time! Remember, infants attention spans are not long at this stage and that is fine. A few minutes of one of these ideas per day is plenty, and come back to revisit them often as repetition is what leads to familiarity and building on learning skills later.

Exploring fabric and textures. A beautiful set-up in an infant 🚼classroom, to promote exploration and 💭problem solving.

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Tip: Rotate often to keep baby interested

Infants tend to focus the most on high contrast images, particularly black on white and white on black, followed by bright, complementary colours.

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So now that you have planned a mini infant provocation … what comes next?

I have put together some of my favourite tips for talking with babies/toddlers and engaging in high-quality back-and-forth interactions.

  •  Move to the child’s level and make eye contact.
  • Mirror the child’s tone. For example, if the child is smiling and happy, use a happy, upbeat tone of voice.
  • Use Parent-ese! Parent-ese is a type of adult speech where an adult talks to a child in an exaggerated, animated, and repetitive way. Babies and toddlers get excited when they are spoken to in fun and interesting ways. Parent-ese captures babies’ attention and can help them learn.
  • Comment! Comment about everything in the baby’s environment, such as their actions and other people’s actions, objects, toys, foods, activities, and daily events.
  • Label! Babies and toddlers are learning to match words with different things in their world. Labeling at every opportunity helps babies and toddlers learn new words and understand their meaning.
  • Point and look at objects when describing them for babies/toddlers. Make sure the baby/toddler looks at who or what you are pointing to.
  • Follow the child’s lead and talk about it! Identify what the child is looking at, playing with, holding, doing, or interested in.
  • Have conversations! Some babies and toddlers may not have words yet, but they still communicate in their own “baby language”. This is usually in the form of babbles, coos, laughter, smiles, looks, and gestures. Talk to them and reply to their “baby language”. That is called a “back-and-forth conversation”- baby style!

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As always, never leave infants unattended when playing with any of these ideas.

Mirror, mirror everywhere

I’ve noticed that mirrors are the newest trend in childcare classrooms (of course… Reggio Emilia preschool centres have been using them forever, infant classrooms have always had a mirror and the AQI states we must have a full length mirror in the dramatic area), so because of the fascination with mirrors I have decided to incorporate them into my classroom activities with ECE/ECA students. Now, before I  started using them in the classroom I had to first research the rationale for including them in play-based learning, “How do mirrors support children’s development?”, “What are some simple ways to get started using mirrors–students would need to know?”

Mirrors have an important place in the history of child development.

Jacques Lacan, a psychiatrist, noticed that when babies between 15 and 18 months old look into a mirror they recognized themselves (the mirror stage). This developmental milestone is regarded as an essential marker of the baby’s self-awareness and emerging identity as a distinct and unique individual.

Mirrors provide the opportunity for kids to explore:

  • symmetry,
  • reflection,
  • perspective,
  • angles,
  • their own movement, and
  • self-awareness.

Mirrors and other reflective surfaces are fascinating tools for exploration, discovery, and creativity. *Ding, Ding Ding!!

How to support exploration:

Location of Mirrors for infants and toddlers. Plastic mirrors mounted to walls, crib sides, and the ceiling over the diaper-changing station-would be a great place to begin. (Check the edges and if sharp, wrap in cloth tape)

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Show your emotion. Invite a child to sit next to you in front of a mirror. Demonstrate facial expressions that express a range of emotions—sad, happy, surprise, frustration, fear, or anger, for example. Challenge the child to name the emotion and to mirror it in the mirror.

Getting dressed or blowing your nose. Invite children to put on dress-up clothes in front of a mirror. Allow ample time for trying on hats, wigs, scarves, and aprons.

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Playing with mirrors to reflect light and wondering how our image is reflected teaches children a beginning understanding about the properties of light.

Bounce light off of different surfaces. A large plastic “baby” mirror, held freely, is especially good for this. Have children use mirrors to look behind themselves. “Catch” some sunshine and reflect it to another surface outside or inside. Children can use a mirror to examine their face to draw a self-portrait.

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Draw yourself. Place mirrors in the art area. Children are more likely to draw from the observations they see in the mirror and not from memory if they are encouraged to focus on parts of their face they don’t usually begin with, such as their nostrils. Ask, “Do you see the holes in your nose? How many are there?”

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Reflections of loose parts. Use a framed mirror as a tray for table-top sensory exploration. Gather a variety of soft, textured, loose parts. You might choose materials from nature (leaves, twigs, feathers, and grass)

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Okay so where to purchase mirrors?

Mirror tiles, available at home stores, are an inexpensive. Buy mirrors at a dollar store. “Baby” or designed-for-preschool plastic mirrors can be ordered from preschool, or scientific, education supply companies. Also available at home stores are large sheets of mirrored acrylic board. Ask to have the sheet cut into 2- by 4-foot pieces—they are easy to store and open the possibility of cooperative art and socialization activities.

 

Thank you to all the wonderful teachers and programs that capture these lovely moments in their classrooms and with children, you are inspirational. 

Infant Treasure Baskets

“All around the baby is a magical world of objects just waiting to be discovered.”-Tim Sedin

Post Inspired by all the women in my life currently who are expecting magical tiny humans: My sister Kelly and sister-in-law Denise. Also, by my students who so passionately support infant learning in childcare  centres during placements.

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Once your baby is able to sit and hold things she will love to explore a ‘treasure basket.’ This is a low basket or sturdy box you have filled with lots of interesting household objects and things from nature. The objects must be large enough not to be swallowed and free from sharp edges or anything else that might be harmful when they are touched and quite possibly mouthed by a young child. Older toddlers enjoy the treasure basket, too – just keep introducing new objects.

-Tim Seldin, How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way

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Using the Treasure Basket gives babies the opportunity to:

  • Explore with all their senses: they can feel, taste, hear, smell and see a variety of textures, experiment and make choices.
  • It provides early experience of sorting and classifying items.
  • It develops fine motor skills.
  • It helps babies develop concentration.
  • Enrich their experience of objects around them
  • Help them to gain confidence in making decisions.
  • Promote open-ended and independent play

The Montessori teaching method is largely based on learning through touch, taste and sound and has proven that children can benefit from learning in this way.

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Try to include lots of different textures in the items you put in the treasure basket. Some things you might like to include:

Metal: measuring spoons, colander, whisk, large keys, jar lids, tea strainer, sauce pan, bells tied on a string

Natural materials: wooden spoons, bowls and blocks, sponges, large shells, fir cones, twig spheres, woolen pompoms, large pebbles, whole fruits and vegetables

Wooden: blocks, rattle, small crate, egg, little wooden shapes, wicker spiral ball, ridged instrument stick.

Fabric: scarves and pieces of material including knitted items, cotton, silk, velvet, leather, chiffon, terry, fur

Colour Recognition: {could be done in any color}: various sponges, opening/closing tomato container, foam letters, jar lid.

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Infant Conversation: Exploring Treasure Baskets

Exploration from Birth
When babies first interact with the world, they don’t have words to describe what they encounter, but they do absorb information through their senses. A newborn’s sight is limited at first, but as they get older their sight becomes more finely tuned.

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While babies may not have the words to describe their experiences, sensory play can help babies build vocabulary and understand language. By using words and questions that relate to the child’s experience, a parent or ECE/ECA can link sensory experiences with cognitive growth.

Newborns and infants won’t be able to gain much information from the textures that they touch. However, you can stimulate the sense of touch in babies with simple materials like a large pom-pom. With the baby in your lap or on a floor mat, show the pom-pom and describe its color, size, and texture. Tell the baby that you’re going to rub the texture on the arms, legs, and face. Watch for the baby’s accepting responses (smiles, waving arms, and kicking feet) as an invitation to continue the activity. If the baby turns away or squirms uncomfortably, acknowledge (and label) the emotion and discontinue the activity.

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Using descriptive and action words such as cold, hot, bumpy, shiny, smooth, pour, dump, scoop, sift, and splash in the context of experiences will help solidify the meanings of these words in a young child’s mind.

  • Describe the infants actions with the materials? (turning, mouthing, dropping, looking, feeling the object).
  • Offer descriptive vocabulary for the material including color, texture, and other appropriate features.
  • Ask the infant how does the material feels, describe it to the infant?
  • Talk with the baby about the sounds and encourage rhythmic shaking with simultaneous full-body movement.

  • Observe as the infant engages with these materials spontaneously or if you need to introduce the object to the child (you may have to place it in their hands).
  • Does the infant find it more pleasurable to mouth the object rather than looking at it?
  • While the baby is sitting on the floor show the treasure basket. Position the basket within the baby’s reach and watch. Is there an effort to reach the basket? Does the baby use both hands to reach and grasp? Can the baby repeat your shaking motion?

  • Does the infant pick up the objects with one hand or both?
  • Position a infant on the tummy and point to the treasure basket. Encourage the infant to balance and reach the object. Watch how the infant uses their hands— sweeping, making contact, grasping and pulling?
  • Notice infant’s preferences of materials. What did the infant seem to notice in each?

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Choose Materials that Appeal to all Senses:

Thinking about children’s tactile experiences are perhaps the most important, but it is also useful to consider the way sensory materials look and smell, and the noises materials make when used together. Some smells may be inviting, while others may be too strong or otherwise undesirable. Some children may be resistant to things that are cold or warm. Infants and young toddlers are also likely to mouth materials at the sensory table, so be sure materials are safe and comfortable for mouth exploration.

Make sure that all materials are clean and free of potential hazards, such as loose parts, sharp points, and toxic chemicals.

 

The Classroom with Infants

How do we show respect to the infants in our care? What behaviors support our beliefs of infants? Say, for a moment, that a parent was observing our work with young infants. How would they know that we respect young infants?

Infants explore so much of their world through movement. Their non-verbal expressions tell us about who they are, their needs, their feelings. We uncover so much about who they are simply by watching them. Before they develop [verbal] language we gather so much of our knowledge about a young infants needs and wants by listening to their cry and how they respond to the world.

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During the early years,  infants make sense of the world through their sensorimotor [sensory-motor] experiences, from the beginning each infant develops his or her own communicative dance to express how he or she perceives and experiences his or her surroundings.

As an infant moves from a lying to a sitting to a creeping and finally to a standing position, his perspective changes, as do his perceptions of the world and its possibilities.

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Movement is our first language from the day we are born. Thus, movement is very important for humans. We perceive and understand ourselves and the world around us first through the exploration of movements.

Dr. Tortora wrote in her book, Dancing Dialogue: “Babies first find out about the world and respond to it through their bodies, using their senses and movement sensations to explore. Without a verbal communication system in place, infants are first and foremost receiving information about the world through the stimulation of their senses. Movement and body sensations are among the primary modes from which babies receive information and communicate how they are experiencing this new world.”

I recall the first couple of days with my daughter Sophia [now six years old], so much was expressed by the way she moved, some of my behaviours at cultivating infant observation were very simple, they involved:

  • Pause for a moment in the room where she was playing.
  • Breath in and out to sense your breath in your body first. (Repeat a few times)
  • Open your chest and arms in an open position.
  • Watch with a curious mind how she plays whether from afar or near, standing or sitting.
  • Receive openly the movements she is doing, playing, eating, lying down…
  • Just observe and absorb the moment of the movements with a keen interest.

Becoming attentive to the qualities of a young infant’s non-verbal cues provides a window into the child’s experience, expression and development of she sense of self. To begin the journey…wait, watch, listen and quiet down within oneself. It was difficult for me at first to not interpret or question what Sophia was ‘saying’ through movement, but with practice I became more self-aware and not to judge or evaluate what she was doing, but rather to observe openly so a relationship could develop without expectations.

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According to Rebecca Anne Bailey and Elsie Carter Burton (1982), authors of The Dynamic Self: Activities to Enhance Infant Development, when- ever babies move any part of their bodies, there exists the potential for two different kinds of learning to occur: learning to move and moving to learn.

Experienced and responsive teachers focus on each individual infant, they provide a flexible and responsive environment designed to give infants the chance to move freely and explore his or her world. Soft mats and structures for crawling and gross motor development.

After writing this post on movement I can’ help but think of looking at infant environments as places where intimate, rhythmic exchanges occur.

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“People create their lives through relationships with others; development and learning take place through and for relationships.”

Infant classrooms gift infants freedom to move and explore as they are developmentally ready. Places for keeping non-mobile infants safe while they are lying on the floor, but allowing them to see and hear others in the environment as well as quiet spaces for presentations or independent activities are essential. The photographs above come from various inspiring infant classrooms, they convey a transparent message of open communication and belonging.

The Reggio Emilia system has become known to educators for the work and words of its founder, Loris Malaguzzi (1993), who spoke of “education as relationship.” He saw that children are forces who enrich our world by creating new connections between people, places, and things. Therefore, educators must treat them as people who are always interconnected with others and seeking participation in wider communities.

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Bailey, R.A., & E.C. Burton. 1982. The dynamic self: Activities to enhance infant development. St. Louis, MO: C.V. Mosby.

Malaguui, L. 1993. For an education based on relationships. young Children 49 (1): 9-12.

Lowering the Classroom Ceiling

“Children thrive in indoor and outdoor spaces that invite them to investigate, imagine, think, create, solve problems, and make meaning from their experiences – especially when the spaces contain interesting and complex open-ended materials that children can use in many ways.” (HDLH, p. 20)

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The ceiling is can be transformed to become a beautiful part of the classroom To children it is the unobtainable height that is a cause for wonderment. Many times children are so determined to touch the ceiling  “I can touch the ceiling?” If they are truly amazed. Some classrooms find the most interesting ways lowering the ceiling and make it more exciting for children.

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Can lowering the ceiling with fabric foster the health and well-being of the child?

Yes, I definitely feel lowering the ceiling through incorporating fabrics softens, and creates a space of peacefulness. Much of our work requires us to keep attuned to children’s varied sensitivities, arousal states, and the need for maintaining a calm, focused, and alert state, that lowering the ceiling can support teachers in meeting children’s well-being.


Our environment affects us all and especially children with different sensitivities, one thing I always keep in mind is that children do not have the filters that most adults have acquired. Children absorb all the sights, sounds, smells, textures and emotions around them.

—For very young children [infants] it also gives them a sense of security, since they spend an enormous amount of time on the floor.

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Reflective Question:

  • How is the environment arranged [designed] in a manner that is inviting and encourages children to explore?
  • What is the atmosphere/climate of the classroom? How does the classroom set-up contribute to the atmosphere/climate?

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Infants and the Foundations for Learning

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Inquiry Question: How will it be evident in our practice that we view infants as competent learners? What will it: look like? sound like? feel like? In what ways can we use the foundations for learning to guide our understanding?

Examples of “Educator Actions” that represent the belief that infants are competent learners:

Engagement: Creating Contexts for Learning through Exploration, Play, and Inquiry

  • Providing safe spaces and opportunities for children to explore large muscle movement (using slopes, low steps, play pits, or platforms to create multiple level environment)
  • Designing environments so that children can access materials independently (infants take cues from the way each area is organized, as well as its mood, to stimulate their interaction)
  • Supplying materials that allow for the exploration of temperature, texture, size and shape as well as materials that can be taken apart, opened and closed, filled and dumped

Expression: Fostering Communication and Expression in All Forms

  • Honouring children’s preferences; for example, putting them down if they do not wish to be carried or allowing them to choose whether or not they would like to paint at the same time as the other children (offering a space for relaxation)
  • Allowing infants/toddlers to make choices about which books they would like to look at or have read to them
  • Permitting children to decide when an activity is complete

Well-Being: Nurturing Healthy Development and Well-Being

Physical Well-being and Self Care

  • Giving children real tools such as spoons to feed themselves, even if it is messy
  • Allowing children to clean up minor messes they may have created
  • Giving full attention to infants during routine activities such as diaper changing to convey that they are valued and cherished
  • Encouraging mobile children to walk to the changing area instead of carrying them
  • Encouraging toddlers to pull up their own pants after diaper changing
  • Allowing toddlers to put on their own shoes

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“By involving ourselves in a constant inquiry into what we believe … we will be on a journey of getting to be better and better as teachers all the time.” ~Callaghan, 2011

Objectives: To bring the Province of Ontario’s vision of Pedagogy to life with our infants.

  1. Evaluate their personal beliefs regarding how children learn (pedagogy).
  2. Have a better understanding of “How Does Learning Happen?”
  3. Plan curriculum that is purposeful and meaningful
  4. Build a vision of children as competent, curious, and capable of complex thinking and rich in potential.

Callaghan, 2011, Early Learning Framework website, Principle 6: What the experts say.

I would love to read and hear about the ways your using the foundations to inform your practice with infants?