We have decided at my center to participate in STARS, the state's quality rating system for child care providers. Like most state rating systems, the number of stars we are awarded depends on the score we achieve on the ITERS-R and ECERS-R. As part of the application process, a quality coordinator from the state comes out to a baseline rating in order to identify strengths and areas for improvement and to give the center a general idea of where they stand. Then we write and implement a quality improvement plan to help us get the highest rating possible.
A few weeks ago, we got the report back for my classroom and as my co-teacher and I reviewed it, we were surprised at how low our language scores were. Anyone that has ever set foot in my classroom has heard how much we talk with the children. We talk with them so much that they start carrying on their own, very real, conversations with each other. I love the time of year when we get to the point that the children don't need us to sustain a conversation. It tells me we have done our job well. After all, these are only two-year-olds.
I have been in many child care centers as a consultant over the years and have worked in my fair share of them, too. Too often, I hear teachers talking at children simply because they have been told repeatedly that it is important to talk to children to help with language development. These types of mindless interactions can lead to frustration in children. Sometimes that well-intentioned question is all it takes to interrupt a child's train of thought or derail it altogether. Most adults get irritated when they are in the immersed in a project they are enjoying and someone interrupts them. Why should we expect children to feel any different?
It is less common to meet a toddler teacher that is intentional in their interactions. It is so easy to get wrapped up in getting all the diapers changed or feeding all the children and forget that these are small people we are dealing with, not objects. These routine activities are great times for one on one interactions. Rather then rushing through the diaper change quickly and with little thought about manipulating the child's body to accomplish the task, why not take the time to talk with the child? Tell them in simple language what you are doing and have them participate. Ask them to lift their legs up or try to pull their own pants up or down. The more the child is involved and engaged, the more they will trust and respect the caregiver. These are important relationship building activities.
All too often, during play time, I see teachers trying to show a child how to play with a toy rather then letting the child explore. Or, they are trying to teach the child something, like colors or shapes. They overlook the fact that everything a toddler does is a learning experience. If we teachers get out their way and let them explore, the possibilities are endless. But, we know that they do our help and support sometimes as they play. Teachers can enhance the learning by stepping in to assist if a child seems frustrated or by using mirror talk (narrating what a child is doing). The trick is to wait for the child's cue. When a child looks at you or shows you a toy, that is a wonderful opportunity to add some language or introduce a new word. Then step back and see what happens next. When we constantly bombard them with questions, observations or language just for the sake of talking, they eventually tune us out, become frustrated or lose interest in the activity. By making our interactions meaningful and giving them some space and time, they will learn these things when they are ready. Quality, not quantity.