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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 4, Lesson 1

Play-based Infant and Toddler Curriculum - What is it?

Curriculum for infants and toddlers transcends a school-based definition of curriculum to teach specific subjects to include everyday routines, activities and places that infants/toddlers participate in, with adults, siblings, and other children. While some activities are planned based on best practices for infants and toddlers, the planning for activities remains "a place to begin" and is flexible and responsive to each infant/toddler's personality, development, and family culture.

Curriculum development must start with:

  • observation of the child behaviors,
  • family routines, and
  • child care center routines as applicable.

red haired toddler with hand on castleGiven this, planning should be done with information that considers the most child-initiated learning possible. Activities should be dynamic interactive experiences built on young children's interests, curiosity, and motives as well as the families' goals and concerns. Curriculum must address social and emotional, physical and motor, communication/language, and cognitive areas of development. Play is the infant/toddler's inherent medium for learning and by supporting the child's play patterns, the child will develop, learn, and adapt in all of those developmental areas. (Lally, 2004; Gonzalez-Mena, 2004; Bergen, Reid, Torelli, 2001; McMullen, 1999; O'Brien, 1997; Johnson-Martin, Jens, Attermeier, Hacker, 1991).

What is play? Play is something almost everyone can relate to doing at some point or many times in their lives. It serves as both a verb and a noun - it is a relative activity - shifting to the context of the situation. Scholars have studied play from many different perspectives - solitary play to play with peers and more skilled partners, looking at the contextual factors that affect play, considerations of motivations to play, comparisons of humans and animals and more. Most scholars agree on the following qualities:

  • Voluntary - freely chosen, desire is strong
  • Meaningful - involves deep mental activity that seems to take over so much that the people involved in play block out everything else around them
  • Symbolic - representation of behaviors and actions are evidence, "As if..."
  • Rule-governed, but rules explored - as they play people conform to conventions of life as they know it, but explore life as they would like it to reach for new goals and rules...taking it to another level or dimension
  • Pleasurable - you can see it on their faces. While seriously engaged, they are happy...
  • Episodic - they are involved in mutually developed "scripts" of play and negotiate and respond contingent to others; to objects in the play
  • "I am not always sure how to define it, but I know it when I see it..."

Father and baby laying on floorPlay is one of the seven conditions for learning. The conditions listed below are critical for simplifying, motivating, and challenging children's real learning. They are essential if caregivers and/or parents want to truly engage children in making comparisons and experiencing relationships, rather than just memorizing and reciting information. This engagement is referred to as "making meanings". (Fromberg, 2002).

  1. Induction (comparisons between/among objects and ideas to make new discoveries),
  2. Cognitive Dissonance (surprise and intrigue. So how did that happen...?),
  3. Social interaction (ideas bounced around people with richer outcomes than any one person could have developed along),
  4. Physical experiences (Get in there and move things around to learn to work children's muscle memory - the younger the child, the more important the need to learn through actions),
  5. Revisiting (Hum...I used to think this, but when I looked again...),
  6. Competence (I can do this!...and this skill helps me learn the next skill),
  7. Play.

Adults, whether families or other caregivers, have a crucial role in fostering infants/toddler's development through play and engagement in daily routines. Some general guidelines that adults should espouse and implement to care for, teach, and promote development are below:

  1. provide positive care and education from a consistent limited number of adults
  2. make it a point to know each infant/toddler if in group care or, if a parent, their own infant/toddler well in relationship to knowledge about child development
  3. be sympathetic to the wide diversity of development and cultural diversity of children and families
  4. provide appropriate activities within a flexible, yet predictable schedule
  5. provide an attractive, inviting and safe physical environment for play and daily routines
  6. supervise children's activities, respecting their increasing need for exploration, risk-taking, and self-regulation of behaviors
  7. maintain an atmosphere that supports problem-solving and increasingly more challenging activities to stimulate growth
  8. know when to be involved, direct, support, or guide children's play and daily routines and when to step back and observe to allow the child to take initiatives that are challenging, but not frustrating
  9. work collaboratively and in a coaching model with other adults/family in the best interest of the infant/toddler
  10. be willing to reflect on current teaching strategies to change or adapt in the best interest of each infant/ toddler
  11. stay current in best practices for infant/toddlers as the field changes with additional research and proven practices
  12. stay current in state and federal legislation and available services for infants/toddlers with special needs and linguistic differences.


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