Child development is the process by which children become able to handle more complex levels of moving, thinking, feeling, and relating to others. It is the cornerstone of our program.
At First Circle, we take care of children’s physical needs (food, bathroom, rest, and safety), while supporting each child’s development and learning. Understanding child development is an important part of teaching young children.
developmentally appropriate practice
Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is a child-centered approach to teaching and learning that incorporates children’s developmental needs, interests, and abilities. As educators, we use DAP to support children’s holistic development and help them achieve their full potential. To implement DAP in the classroom, we:
Think about children as individuals and how they progress and grow at their own pace.
- Understand child development for your class’s age range and when to get additional help or support for a child outside developmental norms.
- Celebrate developmental strengths.
- Work on areas of challenge or need for a particular child.
- Match activities and lessons to a child’s interest and developmental needs. This helps children engage more with the learning materials and achieve better learning outcomes.
ENCOURAGE ACTIVE LEARNING
Allow children to construct their own knowledge and develop critical thinking skills. Active learning can include hands-on experiences, problem-solving activities, and open-ended questioning.
BUILD SELF-ESTEEM AND CONFIDENCE
Acknowledge the unique abilities and strengths of each child, which can build self-esteem and confidence. Children who are confident are more likely to participate in learning activities and take risks in their learning.
SUPPORT SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Facilitate play activities that encourage children to work together and practice communication and problem-solving skills. Young children are developing their social skills and need opportunities to interact with their peers. Practice through play can lead to better social skills, improved emotional regulation, and increased empathy and understanding of others.
PROMOTE INCLUSIVITY AND EQUITY
Take time to get to know and understand the children you work with through their culture, community, and family. This promotes inclusivity and equity by creating a classroom environment that values and respects all children and their backgrounds.
Provide open-ended activities that allow children to express themselves through art, music, and movement. Young children are naturally curious and creative.
Each child is born with a biologically based temperament. Their individual temperament guides their approach to people, experiences, objects, and events. It remains fairly constant over time (although the intensity of traits can be affected by experience).
By understanding children’s temperament, caregivers can help them express their preferences, desires, and feelings appropriately.
When we consider a child’s temperament, we look at where they stand on the continuum of 9 separate areas.
quiet ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ active
How much does the child need to move around? Can they sit still without wiggling?
predictable ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ irregular
How regular are the child’s eating times, sleeping times, and bowel movements?
adapts quickly ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ adapts slowly
How quickly does the child adapt to changes in schedule, routine, new foods, new places?
approach ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ withdraw
How does the child usually respond to new people, new foods, new toys, new activities?
not sensitive ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ very sensitive
How sensitive is the child to noise or light level, temperature, touch, or movement?
mild reaction ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ intense reaction
How intense are the child’s reactions, positive or negative?
not distractible ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ very distractible
Is the child easily distracted, or is there intensity of focus that prevents them from being able to switch gears?
positive mood ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ negative mood
How much of the time does the child have a positive mood versus negative mood?
long attention ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ short attention
How long will the child persist with a difficult activity?
In general, a child will show certain behaviors for each trait. For example, one infant may be extremely active and have a need to move continually, while another may be happy to move slowly around the environment watching things. One toddler may try something over and over until they experience success, while another may try something once and give up if it does not work.
These 9 temperamental traits often appear grouped in 3 temperament types:
- Easy or flexible: Children with this temperament tend to be easy-going, happy, calm, and adaptable. They have regular sleeping and eating habits.
- Active or feisty: Children with this temperament may be active, fussy, and have intense positive or negative reactions. They may have irregular sleeping and eating habits.
- Slow to warm or cautious: Children with this temperament may be hesitant or fearful in unfamiliar situations, move slowly, and prefer to watch a situation for a while before joining in. They may struggle with changes, such as having a new caregiver or a shift in the daily schedule.
Some children have characteristics of more than one temperamental type. Understanding how an individual child expresses or experiences the 9 temperament traits will give you a deeper understanding of their unique needs and behavior than a specific style might.
We partner with families to make the right classroom placement. Upon enrollment, infants and toddlers are placed based on their age and their developmental readiness. We discuss the child’s emotional, cognitive, and physical development with the family, make observations while the child is visiting for the first time, and gather information to determine if there are any additional needs or concerns that would influence classroom placement.
In Lexington and Framingham, children are enrolled in the preschool and pre-kindergarten classrooms according to kindergarten cut-off dates used by the local school systems in the area. In Stoughton, with 2 preschool classrooms instead of 3, we split the ages down the middle. Each educator should know the established age range for their classroom:
- Infant 1: 1-10 months
- Infant 2: 8-18 months
- Toddler 1: 15-24 months
- Toddler 2/3: 22-33 months
- Preschool 1: 33-47 months (Exception – Stoughton PS1: 33-52 months)
- Preschool 2: 47-59 months
- PreK: 59-71 months (Exception – Stoughton PreK: 53-71 months)
Per EEC regulations, children may be assigned to age groups outside their own based on a review of the child’s most recent progress report or a narrative from the child’s parent addressing their abilities in the areas of mobility, fine and gross motor control, communication, social interactions, and cognition. First Circle makes these decisions on a case-by-case basis, after considering the needs of the child and the classroom.
To enable children to derive maximum benefit from their time at First Circle, our curriculum is based on 52 developmentally appropriate learning objectives that include predictors of school success and are based on school readiness standards. The objectives align with state early learning guidelines. The full list of learning objectives with examples can be found in Learning Objectives with Examples, in the curriculum binder.
transition between classrooms
We have transition windows for infants and toddlers every other month. We transition children based on developmental criteria, age considerations, and family preferences, in that order. The transition process is routine to ensure the children are treated equally, but individualized and flexible to accommodate each child’s needs.
We evaluate children throughout the year to assess their readiness for transition. We strive to transition children with their peers but are conscious that children develop at different rates. Every other month we evaluate children approaching the chronological age of the next classroom for developmental readiness [see Transition Process below].
For infants and toddlers, educators should use the readiness milestones to guide their decisions about transition into the next classroom. Those who are developmentally ready transition in small groups.
Children in the 3 preschool classrooms (except Stoughton) transition annually as a group in September and spend a full year in the Pre-K classroom, preparing them for the elementary school structure.
Entering kindergarten is one of the biggest transitions in a young child’s life. During the year in pre-kindergarten, teachers prepare children for this transition through the curriculum, social interactions, and daily routines. The pre-kindergarten curriculum is based on the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks to help every child achieve kindergarten readiness.
Some school systems send parents forms for their child’s pre-k teachers to complete. In addition to providing a reflection of the child’s readiness skills, they also give an opportunity to share information about personality, learning style, social development, individual personality, and temperament.
Assessing Children’s Readiness
About 6 weeks before the official transition date, each classroom receives a “Transition Notification Form” checklist with the names and birthdates of children old enough to transition. The transition decision is based on whether:
- a child is developmentally ready and has met or is beginning to meet transition milestones
- the child meets the chronological age range for the classroom
- the family feels transition would be beneficial for the child at this time
Upon receipt of the recommendation form, you should:
- Make sure any children you think may be ready are on the list OR add their names to the list.
- Mention transition informally to the family and gauge how they feel about it. Find out any family circumstances that may impact the transitioning of specific children, such as new siblings, impending move, death in the family, etc.
- Based on family information, the child’s progress report, and your knowledge of the expectations in the next classroom, rate each child’s readiness as instructed on the form.
- Return the completed recommendation form to the director.
Partnering with Families
Transition can be a sensitive issue for parents. Communication with each family is key to success. Those moving to a new classroom are unsure of what they will find there, and those not transitioning sometimes feel their child has been “left out.” Learn about families’ excitement or concerns ahead of time. Teaching teams in both classrooms are responsible for making families feel like partners in the process.
In preparing for transitions:
- Well before the next transition window, discuss children who could potentially transition with the director.
- Well before the next transition window, discuss the transition process with families. Talk about how transition is a normal process of aging and development, tell them about the transition “windows,” and share specific information about the readiness signs their child is showing.
- Seek out the families that will potentially transition into your classroom and share some of your observations about their child.
- Link families who have children transitioning together so they know their peer group is moving together.
- Remind families that age ranges in each classroom benefit their child because they are developmentally appropriate, allowing each child to explore the skills they have and the challenges they are facing. MAKE SURE YOU KNOW THE RANGES.
- Let families know that you will be watching the transition process carefully. Some children will need to “visit” the classroom to get used to it, some will transition comfortably. We will pace transition based on their child’s needs and will keep them informed of how their child is doing.
- Refer any families with concerns about the transition process to Administration.
- Inform families ahead of time about the way visits work, when and how long their child will visit the next classroom. Follow families’ cues as to what is appropriate—the child may be ready to spend a full day in the next classroom, but the family may need time to build up—be flexible.
To assist families who do not want their child to transition from your room, be a good listener and hear their concerns. Focus your discussions on developmental cues and attempt to compromise with the family if necessary. Assure them we will assess their child’s adaptation and involve them in each step. Facilitate opportunities for the family to see their child in action in the classroom. Introduce the family to the teachers in the next classroom and encourage them to observe that group.
When a child transitions, both the new and old classroom teachers should reassure parents they’ll be watching the transition process carefully and supporting their child.
Collaboration among educators
Once we decide a child is ready to transition, we give parents a transition packet outlining the process with important dates and steps. They will be asked to authorize the exchange of information between educators in the 2 classrooms. After authorization, the 2 classrooms should meet to discuss all the transitioning children. This meeting should include:
- review of All About Me forms
- review of any behavior plans, etc.
- plan for assisting each child with the transition consistent with the child’s ability to understand
- copies of emergency information forms to the new classroom
- Special Care Plans, including all attached Plans
We send parents of transitioning children information that outlines the process about a month before the scheduled transition date.
Children will visit the new classroom in increasing amounts over the 2 weeks before the transition. Some children may need more visits. Families may have scheduled absences during the visitation weeks, so please plan accordingly. Remember that available space in a classroom on any given day may depend upon the enrollment and staffing in several other classrooms.
Classroom teams are responsible for collaborating on how visits should happen. We will try to schedule extra staff during these times, if possible, but please be flexible and confirm with your coworkers that the plan for the day works for all. Sign the children in and out of your classroom’s attendance sheet for each visit. Write the name in if necessary. Whatever a child’s transition schedule, educators should inform parents daily about how the visits are going and answer any questions they have.
transition open houses
Classrooms should plan a Transition Open House for transitioning families before the first week of classroom visits. At the Open House, parents can meet the teachers and assistants in the next classroom, learn about the curriculum and activities there, and receive materials to assist them and their child during the process. This also offers a chance to reflect on the visits that have happened so far, discuss strategies, and get a sense of how families are feeling.
Staff attendance at the Transition Open House is crucial to the transition’s success. Here are guidelines for materials and information you should provide to parents at the Open House:
- Samples of artwork, creative projects, etc.
- Location of each child’s belongings (food/lunchbox, diapers, nap items)
- The daily schedule (activities and choices)
- An idea of what their child will be experiencing in the classroom, how you interact with them, and what things may be different (expectations, daily schedule, classroom guidelines, etc.)
- Encouragement to get to know other families transitioning into the classroom at the same time
- Something about you to help families get to know you better
Assessment is the process of observing and documenting children’s development and learning over time. We know each child is an individual, with specific interests, skills, strengths, and their own developmental timetable. To measure and report children’s progress, we assess them to find out what they know and can do at any given point.
Educators evaluate each child’s strengths and needs to help them be successful. We do not test children. We observe what children do and say as they participate in activities in the classroom, and document those observations.
Assessment is closely linked to our learning objectives and curriculum. When assessing children, observe and nurture the skills and knowledge we want them to acquire in our program. Adjust the curriculum and instruction to meet each child’s learning needs.
Throughout the year, parents receive regular feedback about their children’s learning and developmental progress. We are required by EEC to evaluate each toddler and preschool child every 6 months. For infants and diverse learners, we evaluate every 3 months. As part of the evaluation process, parents are invited to schedule a parent-teacher conference if they wish.
The daily sheets, conversations, and progress reports we use to communicate with families are records of their child’s growth and development. Often a child has issues that need to be addressed. More often, we are reporting progress.
Progress reports should not be used to vent or complain about a child’s annoying habits, but as a chance to outline the ways you support the child to learn appropriate interactions.
Communicate in a supportive manner to families. The following guidelines can help you decide the right words to use.
- Begin and end with a positive—put yourself in the family’s shoes.
- Follow areas of improvement with a positive: “Jason struggles to remember the rules for safety. We continue to offer him gentle reminders.”
- Instead of describing a child as “cute” or “adorable,” describe a specific asset: “We never get tired of seeing Oliver’s smile!”
- Describe concerns in behavioral terms and offer suggestions or choices rather than advice. “We continue to monitor Lucy’s speech development. Keep reading to her at home and using language. If she hasn’t developed more words in the next few months, we can discuss options for referral.”
- Keep it simple and respectful of each family’s individual needs and cultural differences.
- Tell the parent what you do to support the child: “We still notice that Jose is biting when he is frustrated. We try to intervene before he becomes overwhelmed, and model ways to cope with the situation. Jose learns new ways to communicate his feelings every day!”
Sometimes you have already addressed an issue with a parent. Instead of rehashing, say, “Let’s meet again to discuss the progress Jose is making with his biting.”
Upon enrollment at First Circle, the assigned primary caregiver should start a journal for each infant and toddler, and a portfolio for each preschooler.
The primary caregiver contributes to each child’s journal or portfolio on a regular basis (at least monthly). Include information such as photos, anecdotes, and samples of children’s work. Please encourage infant and toddler families to bring the journal home and share information with us about their child’s home life. The information they provide can be used to have an ongoing conversation about the child’s learning experience. Although portfolios for preschool children do not go back and forth between home and school, you should plan and implement opportunities for parents to view and comment.
Each journal follows the child through the program from classroom to classroom until they reach preschool when it goes home for good. Portfolios are created in each Preschool classroom and go home at year end or when the child leaves the program. Children should have opportunities to contribute to their portfolio.
Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled as needed for infants and toddlers. Each preschool classroom chooses a specific date to offer short, 10-minute conferences that parents can sign up for. If requested or deemed necessary, the director may be included.
Parent/teacher meeting request forms are always available on our website. If a family indicates interest in meeting, please meet with the director beforehand to discuss the content of the meeting and determine whether Administration should be present. The director should schedule the conference so that it is convenient to everyone’s schedule.
Diverse Learners are children who, because of gender, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, differing ability levels, learning styles or disabilities, may have needs that require varied instructional strategies to help them learn.
The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University. The theory suggests that traditional ways of understanding intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, are too limited. Dr. Gardner said our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, but there are 6 other types of intelligences that get less attention in society but are equally important. The 8 types of intelligences are:
- Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
- Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
- Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
- Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
- Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
- Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
- Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
- Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
Our culture places a high value on people with strong language and logic skills. However, the theory of multiple intelligences helps us develop children who show gifts in the other intelligences: the future artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, mechanics, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.
Being aware of multiple intelligences helps teachers present information multiple ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. It helps all learners succeed.
Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers develop at different rates and patterns. Most children acquire skills during predictable time periods called developmental milestones. When children have not reached milestones by the expected time period, it can be due to a developmental delay or a developmental difference. Developmental delays and differences can occur in any of 5 areas (cognitive, social, emotional, speech and language, fine and gross motor).
Types of developmental delays/differences include:
- Learning disabilities
- Behavioral/emotional disabilities
- Intellectual disabilities
- Autism spectrum
- Gifted and talented
- Speech and language disorders
- Blindness and low vision
- Hard of hearing or hearing impaired
- Kinesthetic learners
Early identification seeks to determine which children have developmental issues that may delay learning or place them at risk.
For some children, developmental differences and delays are temporary; for others, they may persist, making the child’s referral for evaluation important for their success in school. Currently, there are no clear ways to predict whether developmental delays or differences that appear in the early years may persist.
Research has shown earlier assistance to address a developmental delay or difference helps the child progress faster, and face fewer challenges to learning. Therefore, when a toddler or preschooler demonstrates early developmental difficulties, we don’t know if they may at risk for a learning disability or other developmental issue at an older age, but adopting a wait-and-see approach or hoping that the child will grow out of their problems is not in the child’s best interest.
Signs of developmental delays/differences [see Appendix]
When to intervene
Educators’ jobs are not to diagnose, but it is important that teachers be aware and act on signs of developmental delays/differences. You should take action if:
- The child’s frustration and anxiety are interfering with learning.
- The child exhibits challenging behavior. [see CHILD GUIDANCE section]
- The child’s basic skills are delayed and they are not meeting developmental milestones.
Getting a child help
The journey from identifying a child with developmental/behavioral concerns to implementing a treatment plan has multiple steps:
Step 1: Implement principles of universal design. [see Learning Environment section]
Step 2: Implement individualized accommodations and keep notes.
Step 3: Meet with family. Refer child for assessment if appropriate.
Step 4: Create a plan for support with family.
Steps occur as needed.
Steps 1 and 2: Universal Design and Individualized Interventions
All classrooms have principles of universal design and accommodations built into the classroom. Step 1 is in place.
If the teaching team has concerns about a child’s development, or if the child is experiencing social, physical, or behavioral difficulties in the classroom or in informal interactions with peers, the teaching team should:
- Consult with director and previous classroom’s teaching team.
- Try individualized interventions, including accommodations to the curriculum or classroom:
IF A CHILD HAS DIFFICULTY…
- Get input about the child from the parent.
- Review the child’s record, and complete an observation report with anecdotal notes, behavior logs, and examples of tried accommodations/strategies/interventions over 2 to 4 weeks. [see Behavior Support Plan]
- After keeping the observation log for a sufficient time, if adequate progress has not occurred, the teaching team should meet with the director to review attempted interventions and develop a Classroom Accommodations Plan, including:
- Individual interventions, including accommodations to curriculum, classroom, or schedule or behavioral interventions or strategies.
- Engaging an outside consultant to observe and make recommendations.
- If the individual interventions and strategies succeed, and the child is on target for developmental milestones and/or challenging behavior decreases, the teaching team should continue to implement the strategies and monitor results.
Step 3: Meet with family. Refer the child for assessment if appropriate
If individualized interventions and strategies fail, and the child continues to show delays and/or differences, the teaching team and director should meet with the parents to recommend further evaluation or special services and develop a referral plan. In the meeting, the parents should receive a written summary of the reason for referral, a summary of First Circle’s observations related to the referral, and any efforts the school has made to accommodate the child’s needs.
Communicating with Parents
Many families are open to seeking assessment and services by qualified professionals if warranted. However, some families may have difficulty hearing the information. They may deny a problem exists because they fear or feel threatened by its possibilities and consequences.
Family cooperation is crucial to helping a child address a developmental issue. Teachers must recognize and be sensitive to family responses, including cultural differences in viewing and addressing a disability, and provide appropriate support.