How to support your child’s development from baby to preschooler 

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Parenting comes naturally right? It’ll be innate and intuitive, we’ll just ‘feel in our waters’ what to do and instinctively meet our child’s every need until one day, we’ll pat ourselves on the back as we realise, they have blossomed into a happy genius. 

But life with children just isn’t like that. It can be fraught, worrying and perplexing as you wade through screeds of parenting-related garb, wondering whether you’re doing it right or if you should start saving for therapy now?

At New Shoots Children’s Centres, we’ve spent a LOT of time researching and meticulously crafting a child-centric environment and ethos, that best supports the development of each and every child. Today we’re sharing what we know works when it comes to growing great brains and happy children. We’ve integrated these ideas and many more into our centres and here are ways you can implement them into your daily lives at home as well, at different stages of your child’s life

The infant years are the most important 

By the time your child is three years old, 90% of their brain has been developed. In these first 1,000 days of their lives, the quality of your child’s relationships and environment is critical to a well-wired brain. This is the most crucial time in your child’s developmental life.

How to encourage your child's brain to thrive

See your child as a person in their own right, a capable being. This will form the basis of a strong attachment built upon trust and respect. Engaging in a serve and response tennis-style manner where the carer asks a question and waits for the response, or commentating to the child what’s happening next are ways to wire up the language centre in your baby’s brain. Sensitively responding to your child helps emotional regulation and encourages us to stay in the present, watching their cues and requests develop. Following a similar daily rhythm provides your child with assurance and a greater sense of security. The less stress an infant encounters the more easily they’ll move forward and the stronger their brain will wire.  

 

Minimising your environment to maximise your child’s development

Babies are sensory beings and their environment is the next most important after those primary carer relationships. Think cosy, home-like, and comfortable with good natural light. A space that’s calm, uncluttered and peaceful with limited interruptions. People often look at children, regardless of age, and place no importance on whether they are busy thinking, dreaming or solving something and so they freely interrupt them. An infant’s space needs to provide opportunities for independent exploration and movement when they are ready. 

Contraptions such as bouncinettes, walker toys, bouncing and jumping devices trap your baby in positions their bodies aren’t actually ready to be in. The same goes for prematurely ‘teaching’ your baby to sit, propped up with pillows. The natural process of learning to walk via rolling and crawling is hard, often full of frustration for your child but will actually help with their overall development, writing and reading down the track. If they can’t get themselves into something, they shouldn’t be using it.

Which toys do infants really need?

Children need fewer toys than we realise – try and pare back, regift or donate excess toys where you can. It’s definitely a case of quality over quantity. Choose open-ended heuristic items that are made from natural materials and appeal to the senses. What does open-ended and heuristic mean? Open-ended toys are items that can have multiple uses (such as blocks) while heuristic items are those that a child can discover on their own. You can relinquish the responsibility for ‘teaching’ your child how to use their toys and let them use it the way they’d like to. Key milestones to consider are:

  • At 6-9 months, your infant will start to explore cause and effect. Being aware of this milestone and providing resources for this stage is worthwhile.

  • At 9-12 months babies become interested in their own reflection, and will enjoy mirror play.

Toddler tantrums are a good thing! 

With their identity and autonomy developing, relationships remain a key focus for toddlers. They seek independence and a desire to control their world, even if their brains aren’t able to self-regulate their emotions just yet. Offering your toddler choices, listening for their responses and respecting their decisions will help empower them and bode for a more peaceful relationship.

Toddlers are driven by their needs, wants and impulses, not by our sense of logic and reason. This behaviour, although tricky to deal with is normal and developmentally appropriate. Lower your expectations – your toddler doesn’t want to do things like share toys.

Brace yourself for loud and intense emotional meltdowns. These give you the opportunity to model empathy and acceptance by calmly welcoming all feelings, even the ugly ones. Listen to what they are telling you and affirm them by repeating back what you see. The earlier we ‘hear’ our children, the more quickly they are able to process and move forward. Feelings are just feelings, they’re not right or wrong, good or bad and we don’t need to judge their feelings.

Toddlers love nothing more than to experiment and test limits. By firmly and respectfully holding your boundaries, your toddler will feel more secure, despite their protests. Let them release those feelings and they’ll move on when they’re ready. 

Toddlers are some of the busiest people we know

During play, your toddler is keen to gather, fill, dump, stack, knock down, transport, post, throw, envelope, drive, select and move things around – make sure you choose robust toys that can handle the task. Again heuristic open-ended free play offers toddlers a myriad of options and hours of engagement as does outdoor nature play. Being outdoors is so important for children (and adults), providing calm, creativity and the all-important chance to move their bodies. 

 

Preschoolers learn through play

Parents are often eager for their children to start ‘learning’ once they reach preschool age, when actually formally teaching children before the age of seven, can be detrimental to their disposition to learn. The importance of play in early childhood is key - this is their work, for literacy and numeracy experiences are embedded in play and through this they will question, explore and test out their environment. 


But what are they really learning?

Child-led play enables children’s imagination and creativity to grow, as well as their reasoning, working memory and gross and fine motor skills. With increasing language abilities and concentration spans they are able to participate in projects, sustained thinking, and group experiences where they learn and collaborate with their peers. Preschoolers want to be like their friends. These peer relationships are more important than they were previously but can bring about some challenges with complex relationships and emotions. They can now play cooperatively to achieve a common goal but despite this desire to be close to friends, they still yearn to be nurtured and thrive on predictability. Role playing becomes more important as they try to make sense of and imitate the world around them. Stories and books with either a book or a told story will continue to develop their language, questioning, dramatic play and imagination.

 

Set your child up as a life learner by supporting their own perception of themselves

Pre-schoolers are really making sense of the world. It’s important for us to listen without judgement to their experiences and support them as they work through issues. Metacognition starts to develop around this age so your child is aware of their own thinking and others as well. They may show an interest in letters or numbers but will commonly get them wrong. This is a good reminder for us that it’s ok, we don’t need to jump in and correct them, they will figure everything out in time. Correcting children constantly with things like shoes on the wrong feet or drawing a letter upside down is immaterial. If they’re happy and proud of themselves then those are the feelings we want to foster – a sense of accomplishment and capability. It is these values that will help them through life.

 

  • Discover more about your child’s development here.

  • Find out what Neuroscience Educator Nathan Wallis says 3-7 year olds need to learn.

  • Tips for your child’s first 1,000 days.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about New Shoots centres, our website is a great place to start. You can:

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