Not STEM, not STEAM but STREAM!!

 You hear a lot of talk about STEM education and about STEAM, I’m personally glad they added the A for arts because art is a great learning tool but neither of those are appropriate for early childhood for a couple of reasons. 

First, children are natural scientist, engineer’s, artist and inventors, all we need to do is give them the freedom to do so. So STEAM in early childhood should be naturally happening. 

Second, what is needed most in early childhood is relationships.  

Here at Birdsall House we let the STEAM happen naturally and we add the R to make STREAM through consistency in staffing and fostering respectful relationships from infancy on.  

By modeling caring respectful interactions we teach the children how to have caring respectful interactions, themselves.

I remember watching one of our students who was three at the time playing with a one year old.  She was using a blanket to cover and uncover the one year old and each time she would stop and say “did you like that? Do you want me to do that again?” which was met with a giggle indicating “yes”. 

Not only are the relationships between the children important but also the relationship between child and staff really matter.  When children feel safe with and loved by their caregiver, they feel free to experiment and explore, which leads to learning. 

There is one negative to building these strong relationship though, the same feelings of safety and love that allow an infants to explore, also allow a toddler to push push push the limits.  But we are ok with that, we know it’s their way of learning what is expectable and we feel honored that they trust us enough for them to push the limits, knowing they will always be kept safe and loved. 


 The Job of a Toddler part two

Getting what they want

Toddlers are experts at trying to get what they want.  

While I have never agreed with the term “terrible two’s”, I fully agree with the term “tenacious three’s” but have also met many tenacious two’s and even one’s. 

One of the most important lessons learned during the toddler years is “how to get what I want”. Toddlers will try many tactics to get what they want and the lessons they learn all depend on how parents and caregivers respond to the tactics used.  

I just spent time with a very tired three year old who didn’t want to sleep. I know this child well and know that a skipped nap could end in a very unpleasant evening for her family. She employed all the typical moves, she got up and used the bathroom twice, she argued that she wasn’t tired, that she was hungry and thirsty, that her clothes hurt, and on and on.  I continued to assure her that she would be ok if she waited for after nap snack because she had JUST eaten a big lunch, that her clothes were bothering her because she was tired and on and on. While it can be very frustrating watching her fight sleep, I know that she needs a nap and she needs me to allow her to test and not give in.  

Keeping a calm demeanor while dealing with a testing toddler is not easy but is very important.  If possible, tag team with one parent or caregiver switching with another when needed. This sends the message that everyone is on the same page and models cooperative behavior. 

Don’t ever hesitate to say “I’m feeling frustrated right now and need to take a break, I’ll be back in a few minutes to help you some more”. Then go into another room and do whatever works for you to remain or regain your calm.  By doing so you let them know that you are not going to give up just because you are frustrated and also show that it is ok to be frustrated and to take a minute when needed. 

Many toddlers will at some point try the tantrum method of getting what they want.  I know that there is a lot of conflicting advice out there about tantrums and I always say to go with what feels right for you and works for your family. My advice is to acknowledge how they are feeling, restate why they can’t get what they want and go on with your day. Remember, they can’t always get what they want and they have the right to be upset about that.  

Here we see my granddaughter showing my entire extended family at a Christmas party how upset she was that she couldn’t have what she wanted. 

And now her reaction when she realized a room full of people were going to let her express her feelings, but were not going to give her what she wanted. 

I recommend only trying to stop a tantrum if they are throwing things or doing something else that could hurt someone.  As with all toddler behavior, acknowledge how they feel with statements like ” I know you really wanted a blue cup but all the blue cups are being used”, or whatever is fueling the tantrum and then let them be. They will soon learn that tantrums don’t work, it may take a few tantrums before they are sure that you won’t give in, but if you are consistent, they will learn that this is not an effective way to get what they want.   

The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s ok for your child to have strong negative emotions, it is not your job to keep them happy all the time.  Despite what they may say, what they need most from you is to know that you are in charge, you can and will make the big decisions and you will love them no matter how hard they push and test.  

Always remember that the safer, more loved they feel, the harder they will test you.  So the next time your toddler melts down in public and you feel everyone’s eyes on you, remember that what they think is not important, your child seeing you be steady and accepting in the face of their emotions is. 


 Let them cry

It might surprise you to know that I do not mind walking into the center and hearing children cry, in fact I like it. 

If the children never cried, I would worry. 

I would worry that the children were not being allowed to experience conflict.

I would worry that the children were being placated to keep them happy.

I would worry that the children were getting the message that it was not okay to cry.

I remember once when I worked at a traditional center in the infant/toddler room and my director walked in and asked why one of the children was crying.  I replied that she was sad, and the director told me to make her stop because they were giving a tour and it did not look good.

As my past employers will tell you, I did not always follow orders.  This child was sad, she wanted something someone else had and despite us offering other toys, she was still sad and deserved to be allowed to express that sadness.  Fortunately, she had moved on by the time the tour came by, but I had been prepared to defend her right to cry if needed.

Not only do infants deserve and need to cry and express their emotions, so do toddlers, preschoolers and even adults. 

That baby that needed to cry became a toddler and preschooler who sometimes needed to cry.  Why would she need to cry you might ask, well, there are many reasons.

None of her friends wanted to play what she wanted to play.

One of her friends played with someone else.

Someone else was playing with the toy she wanted.

And so on, there are many reasons for a child to be sad, frustrated, or angry and they deserve to be able to express those emotion

As adults most of us don’t like it when we are upset, and someone tells us to “Calm Down” or says, “It’s Ok, don’t cry”. I know for me, when someone says those things, I feel like they are not really understanding or listening to me. Instead, I like it when my friend says, “I know that you are feeling sad and if you need to cry, then cry”. 

When we go to great effort to stop a child from crying by distraction or bribery, aren’t we really telling them that it’s not okay for them to be crying? That how they are feeling is wrong and they need to stop expressing it?  That the only emotion we are comfortable with is happiness?  What do they learn from that? 

It seems like we expect our children to control their emotions better than adults do, but when we do not allow them to express emotions, how are they supposed to learn to control them.

The crying child I mentioned earlier is now an amazing 8-year-old who is wise and empathetic, yes, she still cries but don’t we all. And that’s okay.