By Wanda Harris, Director of the YWCA Early Learning Program and Empowerment Child Care
In our 5-star Early Learning Program at the YWCA we have the children in 5 classrooms, divided by age. Everything we do is centered around helping the children in our care develop, and play is a great way to help encourage this.
In the infant room (6 weeks through 12 months) love and attention provides the stimulation they need.
In the toddler room (12-24 months) they need more one-on-one interaction on the floor. They need a lot of back-and-forth dialogue because they’re building up their language skills, leading to what we call a ‘vocabulary explosion.’ They love music and things that make sounds and talk to them. You have to be deliberate with what you do because they’re learning how to mimic.
In the Pond classroom (24-36 months) it’s even more about language. They know what they’re saying and language skills are exploding. They love to be read to and to “read” to themselves. It’s the independent stage – ‘I can do it for myself and by myself.’ Emotions are big, and friendships are developing. They are learning how to start being independent and can be encouraged in this direction – to put on their own coats, and put their own socks and shoes on.
In the Bees and Pre-K room (3-5 yrs.) it’s important to have activities that develop the children’s fine and gross motor skills – they are learning how to cut paper, maneuver with their fingers, jump and run. They’re also getting better at following directions – knowing that they can listen and how to listen.
Beginning in the toddler room we focus on the importance of good nutrition and exercise in developing brains. Our Rainbow In My Tummy nutrition curriculum means freshly prepared meals with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and no added sugars. To further our children’s knowledge and awareness of nutrition we have our own nutritionist does a segment called “Farmer’s Market Friday” where the children do taste testing on new healthy fruits and vegetables each week. This is imperative because the foods we put into our bodies play a very important role. We also stress the importance of at least an hour of outdoor playtime every day.
Outside we encourage free play, where the children are using their imagination and developing their gross motor skills – they run, jump, skip, utilize the riding toys, and even balancing activities. We also have a board outside with attached pots and pans to make music.
Starting at age 3 every child in our program starts taking swim lessons in our solar-heated pool. The water is a great place for children to get exercise and have fun with friends and family, and it’s also very important for their safety that they learn how to swim from an early age.
Families don’t need expensive toys to play with their children! Here are some l0w-cost items that are good to have on hand for playing games:
- Take a plastic ziplock bag, fill with oil, non-toxic paints or just food coloring and seal – let the child make patterns and enjoy squishing it around.
- Take sticky clear contact paper, let the children put different colored tissue paper on it, and put it up on the window – children will enjoy rubbing it to feel the textures and make designs.
- Create “sensory bottles” by filling clear bottles with oil, glitter, buttons, food coloring, pipe cleaner and then seal them with hot glue.
- Make a dress-up box filled with old clothes and accessories to encourage dramatic play.
Finally, talk to your children as much as you can. If you know a second language, even if it’s basic, start it when they’re one year-old. As soon as they can say yes and no they can start saying “si” or “uno”; it’s important to start early.
Wanda Harris is Director of the YWCA’s Early Learning Program. She is a Level 3 Child Care Administrator, State of North Carolina, holds an MA of Education, is an MBA Candidate, and has 28 years of child care experience.