Capabilities of children in their early years are extraordinary. Young brains are being wired for conceptual thinking, creative problem-solving, and social and emotional capabilities. Parents can utilize the natural potential of every child by placing more emphasis on skills building and less on teaching subject knowledge.
Supportive, responsive interactions with adults are the foundation for healthy development of these skills. An optimum learning method in early childhood is guided play, where the child chooses what to do and the adult adapts the activity to the child’s interests and attention span, and prompts thoughtful back and forth exchanges.
“Young children experience their world as an environment of relationships, and these relationships affect virtually all aspects of their development” ~Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
Attention Working memory Self-awareness and self-control
Talk & Play
Social interactions – how adults connect with infants is more important than the quantity of words communicated.
Conversations – name aloud things that hold baby’s attention and narrate things she chooses to do.
Fingerplays– sing songs or chants with simple hand motions to develop self-control, working memory, and language (e.g., Eensy Weensy Spider; Where is Thumbkin?).
Rhymes – chanting predictable rhymes that end with a stimulating yet expected surprise will often delight little ones (e.g., This is the Way the Farmer Rides; Patty Cake). As infants become familiar with a rhyme, working memory helps anticipate the surprise, and self-control regulates high levels of stimulation.
Photos – show photos of friends and family members to baby and name each person. Over time, she will began to point, smile, and may reach for people in the picture.
Play with other babies – seek opportunities for babies to interact with each other. (Library storytimes are a great example!)
Hide-and-find games– challenge baby to remember who is hiding and practice basic self-control abilities (e.g., Peek-a-boo).
Reciprocal games – play that requires turn taking or serve and return can trigger pro-social, helpful behaviors (e.g., roll a ball back and forth).
Imitation or copying – imitating an adult requires an infant to keep track of the action, remember it, wait their turn, and recall what was done.
New activities – do together and ask questions about how things work to boost active learning.
Science & Math
Discovery – provide creative opportunities to engage with water, fragrant spices and herbs, mystery touch boxes, etc.
Manipulate and change – offer safe materials that can be rolled, shaken, or banged to demonstrate the concept of cause and effect.
How many – lay the foundation for understanding quantity by using numbers 1, 2, and 3 as adjectives (e.g., “let’s read 3 books” rather than “let’s read 3”).
Similarities and differences – compare objects by using terms like “more” and “less” to compare color, size, weight, etc.
Body & Brain
Emotions – show and label basic feelings of happiness, fear, sadness, surprise, and anger by reading stories or using puppets and dolls.
Repetitive play– repeating an activity over and over cultivates baby’s working memory and tests their theories about the world.
Find it – cover a small toy with a cloth and encourage baby to find it. Move the toy and repeat for more challenge. To increase difficulty, hide a small object under one in a set of look-alike cups, mix them up and see if she can choose which cup contains the object.
Mirror games – play with different mirror types and sizes to look at, recognize, and manipulate baby’s reflection. Flashlights can reflect light on walls or floors.
Napping – sleep at consistent times during the day is important for baby to manage stimulation and practice self-control.
Be mindful that each child is unique and typical development encompasses a broad variation of formative patterns. These suggestions are intended to be merely a guide for building skills applicable to a baby between the age of 0-18 months.
“Normal is what somebody is“
~The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (2019 Newbery Honor middle-grade fiction)
Stay tuned for the next post Skills for Toddlers 18 months – 3 years in the School Readiness series on Kidsblog!
Center for Childhood Creativity (CCC) at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Promising Practices: A Guide for Library Staff [aligned with Reimagining school readiness: a position paper with key findings]
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2014). Executive Function Activities for 6- to 18-month-olds. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu [website] *Special thanks to Laura Kennett, Children’s Services Supervisor, Novato Library for disclosing this source!
Eisenmann, Amy. (2019, February 7). Key Findings from Research [Infopeople webinar]. Bay Area Discovery Museum, Center for Childhood Creativity.
Lerner, Claire & Parlakian, Rebecca. (2010, February 17). Play With Me! Activities That Make Learning Fun From Birth to 12 Months. Retrieved from www.zerotothree.org [website]
Feature photo credit: Terry Lorant Photography/CA State Library LSTA grant