Child Development

Sensory Integration

Programmatic Information and Resources

Sensory experiences are crucial to a child’s development.

Play and exploration that includes the opportunity to manipulate materials is how a child collects sensory information. Perceptual motor development occurs when he can make sense of, and interpret the information and experiences. (Click Here for more information on sensory development.)

This page is full of ideas, activities and resources to help you incorporate sensory experiences and materials into your program.

Sensory Integration PowerPoint Presentation

Sometimes we can alleviate the challenging behaviors we observe in our programs
by making simple changes to our environments.

When we see that a child is struggling, or exhibiting behavioral issues in the classroom, we should first look at the environment to see if it is causing the behaviors.

Rather than punishing or demeaning a child, we need to look at possible sensory integration problems. If a child has problems with the vestibular (inner ear and balance) system, he may fall easily, have difficulty with spatial concepts or need to spend most of his energy focusing on staying in his chair. We can help these children by encouraging them to play on swings or the merry-go-round or by placing a rocking chair in the classroom.

girl with large ball Some children avoid crossing the midline of their body or mix up letters or patterns. We can help them by leading them in activities that use both sides of the body such as jumping jacks and catching large balls.

We can also make adjustments in the classroom environment and interactions to assist children who are hyper sensitive to touch.

Other children may be clumsy and unsure of themselves. We can help them by involving them in games and activities that are not competitive.

Child Assessments

baby holding flowerAll children will develop at their own pace, but there are commonly recognized developmental patterns, milestones or stages that most children typically follow.

There are many early childhood development assessment tools out there. I would recommend you check to see if your state has developed foundations or guidelines and assessment tools. In California we use the California Learning and Development Foundations, developed by the California Department of Education with the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP) Child Assessment tool.

I think the biggest benefit of the DRDP and other child development assessment tools is that we can use them to partner with parents, and connect what we observe and learn about the children back to our curriculum, so we are constantly tweaking and individualizing our curriculum and environments to meet the needs of each of the children in our programs.

Infants and Toddlers

baby with globeIf you have the chance to watch the video “Discoveries Of Infancy”, I highly recommend it. It beautifully illustrates the six “discoveries of infancy”;
  • 1. How infants use tools
  • 2. Cause and Effect
  • 3. Object permanence
  • 4. Understanding space
  • 5. Imitation
  • 6. Learning schemes.

For infants, their most effective “tool” is their own body. They learn they can get their needs met by crying. They roll, reach, crawl and walk to get to what they want, hold objects between their hands and torso, push, bang and throw items, and grasp and pull items towards themselves. Infants turn their head away when over stimulated and hide their face or push items away with their hands.

Cause and effect is perhaps the one discovery that is easiest to see an infant master. The most obvious cause and effect game we immediately think of is the drop and pick up game. Sometimes it looks like the infant isn’t even really interested, but he will continue to drop that item as long as the adult keeps picking it up. Activities such as splashing in a small puddle of water on a tray to hear the sound and feel and see the water splash, is also fun for an infant. Other activities like banging, pulling, dumping, and even crying and having a caregiver respond provide opportunities for practicing cause and effect. Games like pee-a-boo and hide-the-toy help an infant learn object permanence.

When an infant on the changing table reaches for the mobile above it and misses, he is learning about distance and perspective. Shape sorting toys and simple puzzles provide opportunities for practicing fitting shapes into spaces. Cruising along furniture helps the infant understand gravity and balance, and tummy time on the floor allows an infant to roll or crawl and explore space and boundaries.

Imitation fosters, not only cognitive, but also language and social development. An infant imitates actions, facial expressions, sounds and eventually even sequences. Games like peek-a-boo and taking turns with an infant making faces or vocalizations provide positive interactions and build relationships. Imitation eventually allows children to learn social norms and practice social skills. We can promote development by offering opportunities for practice and repetition, providing developmentally appropriate materials, playing games, singing songs and conversing

Learning Schemes are also referred to as the “building blocks of discovery”. When an infant practices learning schemes, he is putting these discoveries together, first into simple schemes, and then more complex ones. Very young infants will mouth materials, bang, roll or shake them. These simple learning schemes give the infant experiences and discoveries that he then builds on to practice more complex schemes. Each experience and discovery leads to new discoveries and insight. Through practice the infant is able to connect cause and effect and develop object permanence. He learns that he can use tools in different and more efficient ways and experience allows him to understand space and use that understanding to maneuver his body and materials as well as learn boundaries. Through imitation he is able to use more complex learning schemes and develop social and language skills that will promote even further learning.

Cognitive, Language and Literacy Development

Cognitive, language and literacy development is dependent on
the child’s growth and development in the other two domains.

readingFrom Piaget, we learned that children learn differently than adults because they do not yet have the experiences and interactions needed to interpret information. They need not just activities and sensory experiences to develop, but they also learn through interactions with adults and their peers by asking questions and talking about events, experiences and ideas. For example, it is only through experience and trusting relationships that infants learn the abstract concept of object permanence.

As I stated earlier, cognitive development and intellect begin with the child collecting and processing sensations from the 7 senses. These sensations and experiences that lead to the development of sensory motor skills allow him to develop perceptual motor abilities, the foundation to daily living skills and behaviors and later, cognitive development and intellect.

Knowing the process of getting to cognitive development, it seems only natural to assume that children then, learn best through active, hands-on play. For example, activities like painting, coloring and even finger painting prepare the muscles and brain for writing. Observing patterns and matching in the block area, and learning math concepts through play is a lot more fun and a whole lot more effective than flash cards. Following patterns and counting with pegboards also trains the eyes to follow left to right as in reading. And singing, rhythm and repetition activities help lay the foundation for phonics and reading….

Rather than having preschoolers sit at a desk tracing letters, we can provide much more developmentally appropriate experiences to help children learn to read. Conversations are perhaps the most natural, but also important experience. Through conversation, children learn vocabulary and phonemic awareness. Having printed materials in the environment and access to writing materials exposes children to language and provides opportunity for practice. Reading to and with children is critical, as is letting children observe caregivers reading and writing. Pointing out print in everyday experiences and taking children to the library also help children connect print to experiences and ideas and foster a love of reading.

Computers should not be used for a substitute for any of these experiences. Jane Healy, author of ” Your Child’s Growing Mind”, points out that in order for children to comprehend what they read, they must have the personal experiences and perceptual skills to connect words to meaning.

Once children have developed the sensory motor skills necessary, and formed the secure attachments needed to feel safe and comfortable with themselves and their surroundings, they will be ready to learn. But trying to force learning to happen before the child is ready is not only pointless, it can also be damaging to the child. When children are playing, they are learning. If children have the experiences and positive interactions that prepare them for abstract cognitive thoughts and concepts, and the opportunities for gross motor and movement activities, rest, and nutrition, most of them will learn to problem solve and think critically.

Social – Emotional Development

little girl holding a dollSocial, emotional development begins with attachment.

An infant develops trust when he experiences his needs being met in a consistent, nurturing relationship with a primary caregiver. In a secure relationship, an infant can form attachments.

Studies of children who were not able to form secure attachments found that some children withdrew, became apathetic or depressed or, in some cases just gave up and didn’t survive. Others however were quite the opposite. Instead of withdrawing, they acted out, seeking sensations in aggressive and sometimes harmful ways.

Most children, even if they have developed healthy attachments, experience separation anxiety, or fear of being separated from their primary caregiver or attachment person, and stranger anxiety. We can help children cope by responding sensitively, maintaining a predictable schedule, ritualizing the parent’s departure,
offering transitional items, and allowing the child time
to become familiar with new people.

There are certain essential skills, or mastery, a young child needs to achieve. These essential skills include

    • 1. Social attachment and the ability to cope with stress
    • 2. Regulation and control of emotions
    • 3. Vision and auditory acuity
    • 4. Motor development and coordination
    • 5. Vocabulary and language development
    • 6. Cognitive development.These experiences happen during the formation of a secure attachment to a nurturing and supportive caregiver. Attachment can soften the effects of stress and trauma later on. A secure attachment also fosters learning, memory, expression and control of emotions and the development of interactive and social behaviors.

      Toddlers strive to be autonomous. By planning ahead so the toddler has time to practice skills without being rushed we are helping him to master skills, which promotes independence and fosters self esteem.

      Self soothing behaviors help toddlers cope with emotions and, to eventually self regulate their emotions. Once they don’t need to anymore, most children will cease their self soothing behaviors, though it is possible that they may reappear at times of high stress later in life. Young children should be allowed to sooth themselves with behaviors that work best for the individual child. For some, that may be thumb sucking, for some rocking, and for others twirling their hair or masturbating. It is important that we don’t interfere with these behaviors or punish or ridicule the child.

      When a child is experiencing overwhelming stress he is not able to store information, and cognitive learning is not likely to occur because of downshifting. Downshifting is the brain’s response to high levels of stress that prevents the brain from functioning at higher levels where creative thinking and problem solving occur. Instead, the brain goes back down into “fight or flight”, or reactionary mode.

      If a child has not had experiences that allowed him to form attachments and self regulate emotions or impulsivity, we cannot expect them to do so in the classroom. Punishing or humiliating children who are unable to sit still or who exhibit challenging behaviors in the classroom only strengthens those behaviors. But, we can help children to self regulate by providing effective skill building activities and nurturing interactions. In “Fear Changes the Way We Think”, Dr. Bruce Perry emphasizes the importance of exposing children who have experienced trauma or neglect to predictable, nurturing relationships and developmentally appropriate experiences. He says that in doing so, it is possible to reverse some of the negative effects of stress.

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