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Following Your Child's Lead

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Dear Debi,
I don't want to force my 1-year-old daughter to learn things before she's ready. How do I know how to play with her & what to teach her?
Nicole Saylor
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
Host
  • Observe your child to determine his interests
  • Use your child's curiosity to encourage learning
  • Express an interest in the things that your child enjoys
  • Play & communicate with your child
  • Avoid over-stimulation
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early childhood educator
Following a child's lead means that, first and foremost, you must observe him or her. Observing means that you're watching your children where they are focusing most of their time, what they're playing with, etc. Are they building? Are they climbing? What are their current interests? By observing them and seeing where their interest lie and where they're spending most of their time and energy, you'll be able to see what they're trying to teach themselves.

Once you realize what kids are interested in, you can provide the materials or activities to expand their learning enviroment. If an activity isn't safe or if it's not an appropriate, you can redirect them. In these cases, try to find a positive outlet for their interests.

Kids learn through play, so we take their lead and expand on their interests to develop those skills. When kids are trying to learn a new skill, like self-feeding, you could provide them with a small spoon, involve them in the cleaning and wiping of their high chair, etc. Allow for that to happen in a way that helps encourage whatever skill they're trying to learn and master.

Kids also learn language through play and interaction, because they want to learn to speak and express themselves. It's important to constantly model proper language skills by reading, singing, playing, etc. Kids should never feel like they're being forced to do or learn something. So if they're trying to learn a self-help skill, for example, make up a song about what they're doing.

Kids don't need help developing their imaginations - we do! Children already have a vivid imagination, and this is truly where we can take the child's lead. We should learn to hear it and respond to it instead of breaking it down into practical tasks. You can see and respond to their imagination in dramatic play, making up stories, etc. and not expecting everything to be based in reality or some practical purpose.

Adults need to remember that they should not over-stimulate their children. Observation is key. The clearest example of over stimulation is tickling. Kids love to get tickled. But then they reach a point where they become over stimulated and it's no longer fun for them. You have to watch for physical signs and cues that kids have reached their breaking point. Babies will turn their gaze and their bodies away, older kids will say "no," "stop" or "no more." Crying, tantrums, any behavior - even laughing - where the child's emotion is escalated indicates over stimulation. It's just another reason observation skills are so important.
child Care provider Comments
David Arnold
David Arnold
Father of a 20-month-old
My daughter will actually take my hand and lead me to where she wants to go sometimes. Most of the time it's to the cookie jar, but nevertheless she's leading and I'm following. When we play together, she'll lead me through which toy is next. When we read books, she'll be the one to turn pages and guide us as we go. We draw and color together a lot which can be a great time to ask her open ended questions.
Maria Segura
Maria Segura
Grandmother of a 3-year-old
We use our imaginations when we play with our grandson. We have a lot of his toys in the living room corner and he picks what he wants to play with. He may want to play with blocks, cars or trains...whatever he wants. Then I just use my imagination and play along with him.
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
I do a lot of observation with the kids in my care. I see if a child enjoys balls, trucks, cars, dolls, water play, etc. I find when you let a child lead an activity it keeps their interest alive. Sometimes they surprise me and I have to think out of the box to keep up with them. You have to watch them and see what they are interested in.

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Following Your Child's Lead
Topic: Child Care Management
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