Early childhood educators spend critical time with the children in their care and program. Being intentional and purposeful in the learning activities and experiences should support all areas of development. Although this article was intended for parents of young children, there are good tips for all who interact with young children.

Research on early brain development and school readiness suggests the following guidelines for the care of young children:

  • Ensure health, safety, and good nutrition: Encourage families to make sure their child has regular check-ups and timely immunizations; safety-proof the places where children play.
  • Develop a warm, caring relationship with children: Show them that you care deeply about them. Express joy in who they are. Help them to feel safe and secure.
  • Serve-and-return: Like a tennis match, how you respond to a child’s cues and clues makes a world of difference in their learning. Notice their rhythms and moods, even in the first days and weeks of life. Respond to children when they are upset as well as when they are happy. Try to understand what children are feeling, what they are telling you (in words or actions), and what they are trying to do. Hold and touch them; play with them in a way that lets you follow their lead. Move in when children want to play, and pull back when they seem to have had enough stimulation.
  • Recognize that each child is unique: Keep in mind that from birth, children have different temperaments, that they grow at their own pace, and that this pace varies from child to child. At the same time, have positive expectations about what children can do and hold on to the belief that every child can succeed.
  • Talk, read, and sing to children: Surround them with language. Maintain an ongoing conversation with them about what you and they are doing. Sing to them, play music, tell stories and read books. Ask toddlers and preschoolers to guess what will come next in a story. Play word games. Ask toddlers and preschoolers questions that require more than a yes or no answer, like “What do you think…?” Ask children to picture things that have happened in the past or might happen in the future. Provide reading and writing materials, including crayons and paper, books, magazines, and toys. These are key pre-reading experiences.
  • Encourage safe exploration and play: Give children opportunities to move around, explore and play (and be prepared to step in if they are at risk of hurting themselves or others). Help them to explore relationships as well. Arrange for children to spend time with children of their own age and of other ages and support their learning to solve the conflicts that inevitably arise.
    Use discipline to teach: Talk to children about what they seem to be feeling and teach them words to describe those feelings. Make it clear that while you might not like the way they are behaving, you love them. Explain the rules and consequences of behavior so children can learn the “why’s” behind what you are asking them to do. Tell them what you want them to do, not just what you don’t want them to do. Point out how their behavior affects others.
    Establish routines: Create routines and rituals for special times during the day like mealtime, nap time, and bedtime. Try to be predictable so the children know that they can count on you.
    Become involved in child care and preschool: Keep in close touch with your children’s child care providers or teachers about what they are doing. Occasionally, especially during transitions, spend time with your children while they are being cared for by others. The caring relationships they form outside of the home are among the most important relationships they have.
    Limit television: Limit the time children spend watching TV shows and videos as well as the type of shows they watch. For very young children, there is no research evidence suggesting TV helps children learn. For older children, make sure that they are watching programs that will teach them things you want them to learn.
    Take care of yourself: You can best care for young children when you are cared for as well. Learn to cope with your stressors so that you can help your child learn too. Your child’s well-being depends on your health and well-being.

Source: Shore, R. (1997). Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development. New York, NY: Families and Work Institute, pp. 26-27.

Part 3 will explore STEM in early childhood programs.