What does it mean to be a capable toddler? Recognizing that each child is capable is an important tenet in Reggio-inspired care and education, but what does that mean when we share our days with toddlers? Are our expectations the same for every child? How do they differ from expectations as the children get older?
It is easy to see capability in a child’s self-help skills – cleaning up, dressing and undressing, feeding oneself, etc., but there is so much more to being capable, such as:
- Having and expressing desires, and knowing that these desires will be respected.
- Engaging in extended and repeated play.
- Discovering every aspect of an item by exploring it in many different ways.
- Being able to go back and forth between being independent and wanting help and support from the adults caring for them.
One child has certain favorite items that help her transition and seem to ground her in the room and out on the playground. Being able to talk about and carry around her favorite things allows her to feel ownership and a sense of belonging in the room and connects her to the teachers who understand what interests her. From this safe place, she can move on to exploring other things.
At the beginning of the year, one child in the Silver Room relied heavily on his pacifier for self-soothing. He had it in his mouth or attached to his shirt almost all day long. When he began dropping his paci and leaving it somewhere, a teacher would put it up high. He learned to ask through motions for the paci when he wanted it. We then designated a spot on top of a shelf (near our frog, Crawford) for his paci when he didn’t need it. He now knows that he can go get his paci from that spot when he needs it and is starting to put it there when he doesn’t. The other children also know that they can put it on the shelf if they find it somewhere else.
Toddlers are starting to regulate their emotions, but they still rely on the adults around them- to name emotions and help them figure out how to work through them. We want this child to know that we recognize and support his skills and the tools he uses to self-regulate.
Whenever possible, the children are offered the chance to help with “real work.” Whenever one particular student is asked if she wants to help, she responds with a loud “yeah!” She then narrates what we are doing in one-word phrases (just like the teachers do).
These tasks are ones that are very similar to what the children see mom, dad, and other important people in their lives do at home – taking dishes to the kitchen, helping do laundry, shoveling snow, cleaning up after ourselves, etc. The children love to help with these tasks- they can feel powerful when we share responsibility with them.
It can be difficult for toddlers to be able to wait, but there are many times throughout our day when we just have to. We’ve built in toddler-friendly routines that allow these times to be enjoyable and age-appropriate. When we leave the room, we gather as a group on the benches, using this time to connect through favorite songs with motions as we give children time to put on or take off outerwear and talk about what the next step in our day is.
Moving from the room into the hall (or from inside to outside) can be overwhelming as the children experience new sights, sounds, and smells. Giving them a predictable routine and very concrete things to find (the benches, the planters) helps them move through our day safely and gracefully.
There are quite a few boxes in the room that aren’t “out” for play, but that the children know that they get into if so desired. We try to create an environment of “yes” as long as the children are being safe. Here, one child picked out four blocks from one such box. She tried to make a tower, easily stacking 3, but then found that it was unstable when she tried to add a fourth. She took the blocks down and made two small towers. She rearranged the blocks several times, eventually finding that she could carry them all if she stacked them laying horizontally.
This student determined the direction of her play. As a teacher, the only thing I did was make a couple of comments narrating what she was doing. I did not ask any questions or do anything to change the focus of her play. I wanted her to be able to choose and decide what was important in her play and not inject.
Three children were all trying to climb up and go down the slide at the same time. They were all making sounds or saying words that signified that they wanted ownership of the slide. One of their teachers, stayed close to the slide, allowing them the opportunity to try to work through trying to share a space. By “sportscasting” what each child was doing and vocalizing what each child might want, the teacher easily helped this group of children figure out how to be able to share this space.
We know that each child in our group has different capabilities and things they are working on; and each child’s capabilities may change from day to day… or minute to minute. By taking the time to get to know each child, we can create a safe place from which they can explore and become even more capable.
Reflections by Abby DeLong and Andrea Tallacksen, Silver Room Co-Teachers