Friday, August 15, 2014

Active Participation in the Toddler Room

Cohort 9 is in a unique position among the current Tumbleweed cohorts, as the whole group is starting as toddlers.  Because the children in Cohort 9 are coming to Tumbleweed as toddlers rather than infants, some of the things I ask them to do or participate in every day are new to them and rather unexpected.

One thing that has delighted the group is the expectation that they be active participants in serving their own food during lunch and snacks.  They are learning to firmly grasp spoons to scoop food onto their plates.  During her first week, I would scoop some food onto a spoon and then let C drop the food onto her plate, but three weeks later, she can usually do the whole routine herself, looking to me for some guidance when the food is particularly difficult to scoop.  She's not only gaining hand strength and motor skills, but also taking care of herself in a very real way.

LP is particularly enamored with pouring her own water and milk.  I bring a large jar of water or milk to the table and pour a small amount into a petite pitcher just the right size for toddler hands to manipulate.  Again, we started with a modified version of this task: I would bring the lip of the pitcher right up to the edge of the child's cup and begin lifting the pitcher at an angle, asking the child to complete the motion.  Now the toddlers are completing most of this work themselves.  I sit down at snack and mealtimes prepared with a towel so the inevitable spills are handled cheerfully and easily.  It is great to see the children making choices about what they want on their plates and in their cups, and when.  The toddlers love to cheer each other on when a pitcher of milk makes it into their cups, so we are also supporting each other and learning through observation.

Serving food and drinks at the table has been met with enthusiasm, I think partially because at snack and lunchtimes we are all engaged with eating and drinking; there is no other goal.  Activities like putting shoes on, which can sometimes be seen as just part of a transition before we can get to our goal of playing outside, have been met with less delight and more confusion when I ask the toddlers to join me in participation.

When we sit on the porch to put our shoes on, there are times when feet are offered to me with the expectation that I will just get shoes on quickly, and when I ask for the child's focus and participation in putting shoes on, there is sometimes serious frustration.  Why won't I just put the shoes on now so we can get to playing outside?

My strategy is to present the transition as its own special and unique activity, an activity that deserves focus and respect, and an activity for which I have all the time that we need.  Let's put our shoes on together not just because shoes need to be put on, but so we can share this moment of struggle, attempt, and accomplishment with each other.  I am here to help with your shoes, and I also want you to be focusing and learning and trying with me.  Let's slow down and really think about what we are doing in this moment.  Let's not rush through it to get to the next thing.  Then, even if we sit on the porch contemplating shoes for quite some time, when you choose to close the velcro on that second shoe, we can share your pride in having worked hard and completed a difficult activity.  It was your choice to put those shoes on your feet and you did it!

We ask children to be active participants in their own care for a variety of reasons. It would be faster and more convenient to simply do these things ourselves, but by making the choice to participate, children take ownership of their bodies and the activities in which they are engaged.  Active participation teaches self-advocacy and when we listen to and discuss the choices a child is making it shows our respect for the child.  Having the patience and the time to approach these activities as pleasurable, exciting, and self-contained is not always easy, but involving children in their own care and asking them to be active participants is an amazing way to show and teach respect.  I am eager to see how active participation continues to motivate, frustrate, teach, and excite the toddlers of Cohort 9.

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