Transcript: Developmentally Appropriate Practice and the Importance of Play

Presenters: Cristina Codario and Lainey Yockey

>> Hello. Welcome to the Grandparent’s Council Virtual Education series. This is Trying Together. I’m Cristina Codario. And I am a Public Policy Regional Coordinator. And I’m here with Lainey. Lainey, do you want to introduce yourself?

>> Sure. My name is Lainey Yockey. I’m a Communications Manager at Trying Together.

>> And we want to welcome you to this really specific education series that is focused on grandparents as educators and special caregivers in the child’s life. And this series is really meant for elevating you as special kinds of caregivers. But we are going to today focus on the Child Development Birth Through Five series. And we would like to also talk to you about developmentally appropriate play, as well as developmentally appropriate practice. So just an overview here for you of what the Virtual Education Series is. As grandparents and caregivers of all types, you spend so much quality time with the young children in your lives. It is so important for you to make every moment count. And we already know that you engage with your children because you decided to join us today. But this training is going to provide an overview for you of, as I said, brain development and those interactions and best practices that you need to support it. And we’re also going to discuss, as I said, the importance of play and provide you with some opportunities and some resources to help support you in your journey with your children and any children in your lives that you know, whether they’re your grandchildren or little ones that you like to interact with in your community. So we’re going to just talk a little bit about the time from birth to five. So this is really what we think about as early learning. Sometimes, we’ll hear birth to eight. But this is the time when the brain is the most flexible. It is the most critical period of the time of learning. It’s almost like 90% of our brain grows during this period. And it’s just like an overwhelming flexible period for the brain. So we can just learn so much during this time. And it’s critical for learning. And it’s not that, you know, if we wait until kindergarten, our brain just completely shuts down. We know that we can learn something during the different times, right? We can learn — later in life, we can learn languages if we want to learn languages. But we just know that it takes a lot more work, right? It’s possible, but it takes a lot more work. So what we want to do is we want to just give our children the best chance possible. And what you can do, as a grandparent, as a caregiver, as an adult in your child’s life, is just give them the best chance possible by giving them the most opportunity and the best interactions possible during this really critical child development stage, this birth to age five stage. You can give them great interactions. You can play. You can make eye contact and smile at those little babies and play peekaboo and giggle with them and all those things that maybe come already naturally to you. And you go, “Hey, I’m developing their brain when I’m doing that?” Yes, you are. So sometimes, it’s just about doing those things intentionally. Are you walking through the grocery store going, “Hey, what is that?” When they say “What’s that?”, you go, “Oh, that’s a lemon. The lemon is yellow.” Right? All those things that you do that maybe you already do — it’s just about the intentionality of it and realizing that you’re connecting it to their learning and then also that you’re building upon it. So the next time you go into the supermarket, you’re maybe asking them something else about the lemon. Right? So you’re connecting it back. Or when you get in the car, you’re handing that in the lemon, and they’re playing with it and manipulating it in the car or something like that. Right? So you’re building upon what they’re doing. So this is child development. And you can always ask your early childhood providers for more ideas because they are the brain builders and the experts, which we’re going to talk about more later. So here is an expert video. And they’re going to go into a lot more detail than I did and give you a lot more reinforcement because we’re old. And we’re adults. And we need more ideas and more concrete examples because we’re not in that plastic period. Right? Our brain is no longer flexible. We need more examples of why brain building is so important. So these guys here are going to let you know a couple more ideas about why development is so important and why you are a brain builder as a grandparent or a caregiver. So we’re going to watch this video right now.

>> Healthy development of young children in the early years of life literally does provide a foundation for just about all of the challenging social problems that our society and other societies face.

>> What we’re learning from exciting developments in neuroscience and molecular biology is how much early experience from birth, in fact, even before birth, how much this experience literally gets into our bodies and shapes our learning capacities, our behaviors, and our physical and mental health. The brain is basically built from the bottom up. First, the brain builds basic circuits. And then more complex circuits are built on top of those basic circuits as we develop more complex skills. Biologically, the brain is prepared to be shaped by experience, it’s expecting the experiences that a young child has to literally influence the formation of its circuitry. The brain is a highly integrated organ, which has multiple sections that specialize in different processes. Parts of the brain are involved more in cognitive function and other parts, they’re involved in processing of emotion and parts involved in seeing and hearing. So if a child is emotionally well put together, that will affect more positive and productive learning. And if a child is preoccupied with fears or anxiety, no matter how intellectually gifted that child might be, his or her learning is going to be impaired by that kind of emotional interference. So when we talk about healthy development in the early years and particularly when we talk about preparing children to succeed in school, we cannot separate cognitive development from social and emotional development. You can’t have one without the other. So when children experience stable, nurturing relationships, it fosters the development of healthy circuitry. And when children experience uncertainty or instability, it literally disrupts the circuitry in the brain’s architecture as it’s being built. Over time, this has a wear and tear effect. And the more stress you have, the more likely you are to have a whole range of problems later on. And this is why excessive prolonged stress early in life is associated with a higher prevalence later not only of learning problems and behavior difficulties, but also physical and mental health problems.

>> The brain is optimally flexible and plastic early in life. But as it develops its circuitry and refines its circuitry, it loses some of its flexibility, which is why intervening early is so important, because as we often say, when it comes to brain circuitry, it’s better to get it right the first time than to try to fix it later.

>> Okay. So as he said in the video, it’s better to get it right the first time than try to fix it later. So, again, it’s not that you can’t fix it. It’s that it’s just easier to do it right the first time. And so we just want to keep that in mind that it’s not that we can’t undo anything that happens in early childhood, but that investing early really is the key to the betterment of society. And, you know, as you saw early on in this presentation, I’m one of the Public Policy Coordinators here at Trying Together. So I’m always going to put a pitch in for advocating for early learning, investing in the early learning system and making sure that we’re investing in our kids early on. And so that’s really why I do the work that I do because I really believe and I think, you know, that science shows us that investing early on is really key. And it not only, you know, impacts the kids themselves, but it impacts society as a whole because we see that, you know, we see that return on investment. We see that kids do better as adults. They become healthier. They become better members of society because we see that they do better, you know, just in society as a whole. So I think that we can’t deny that anymore. So this is just something that we have to remember when we’re working with our kids and bringing them into our early childhood programs. And we have to remember that our early childhood providers provide a really important service to our communities as well. So when we’re thinking about, you know, the types of interactions that our children have, let’s think about the types of negative interactions that they have. And so, of course, if you are a parent or a caregiver or a grandparent, any type of caregiver at all, you are probably thinking, “Oh, no, what have I done?” Because you probably love the little one in your life. Okay. So take a deep breath with me right now. And I want to tell you that if there is stress in your little one’s life, that’s okay. And that is probably a good thing if there is a little bit of stress in your little one’s life. That is normal. That is healthy for them, okay? Positive stress is a good, healthy thing for your child. This is normal. It’s actually essential to developing resilience. Okay? As much as you have that little one in your life and you love them and you want them to walk around in a perfect little bubble and never have anything bad ever happen to them because you love them, that is not healthy or good or normal. Okay? So just erase that from your thoughts. They can’t do that even if you want them to. Positive stress is good. They need to do things like go to school for the first time and experience stress. Okay? So this first little picture here, you know, that has — it has some stress. And it’s a little peak. And then it goes down. So they have little stress. And then they relax. Okay. Because they have a great caregiver like you in their life to help them deal with that stress. So they go stress, and then they come home to their safe space, and everything is fine. Okay. And then they go to school the next day, and they’re a little bit stressed. And then, you know, maybe the third — by the third or fourth or fifth day, they’re a little less stressed because that’s normal for them now to go to school. And it’s a repeated pattern. And now they have adjusted to it, right? Something like going to the doctor or going to the dentist. You know, it’s not — you might not love doing any of those things but they’re healthy, normal things to experience. They’re things that help keep us healthy in life and etc. Okay. So that’s something that is really important for us to learn, to experience these normal parts of healthy life and healthy development is that we go through life like this. We, you know, go to the doctor. We go to the store. You know, maybe we go to — into large crowds in normal times. And it’s maybe not our favorite thing if we’re an introvert, but we learn to experience, then we have a normal reaction. And then we go home to our safe space, and we’re okay. Okay. So these are positive stressors that become fine, that’s a part of normal life. Then there’s something called tolerable stress. And again, this is in the middle on the screen because it’s in the middle somewhere, right? It’s a response to something that is a little bit more severe. But it’s kind of like limited, right? This would be something that is like a, you know, more of a severe stressor. So it — but it is limited in duration. It is something that is a little bit, like, tolerable for your child because they have support of a healthy adult in their life. So this — the example that they have on this slide is a broken bone. But I always add this caveat that they need that adult in their life. So, for example, if you have a child with a broken bone, and they don’t have an adult in their life to bring them to the hospital, that is going to turn into toxic stress, which we’ll talk about in a minute, because if you can’t go to the hospital and get a broken bone fixed, that is a problem. And that becomes chronic. So we want to just add this caveat of – the broken bone needs to be fixed. And then it’s a tolerable stress. Then you go. You get a fix. Everything is okay. It’s not the best thing that ever happened to you. You’re going to be maybe talking about it the rest of your life. “Oh, yeah, I was on the jungle gym. And I fell and I broke my bone.” And then, you know, you become older, you become an adult. You tell your spouse the story of this crazy thing you did. Then it becomes a silly story. It’s tolerable. It’s maybe not, like, the most fun thing that ever happened to you. But it’s fine, right? It’s short term. Loss of a loved one, like maybe a grandparent. Right? Like, you love your grandparent. But it is a normal part of life that people get older, and we lose them. And it’s not our most favorite thing. But we learn to deal with it. But if you have, you know, another adult in your life that supports you, you can handle it. You know, I still think about my grandmother all the time because she supported me. And I loved her. But I also had parents in my life that supported me through it. So although not positive — I would never call it positive — it was a tolerable experience for me. Right? Definitely not toxic, not positive, but tolerable. Yes. Okay. So then we have our toxic stressors. And again, broken bone or loss of a loved one could be a toxic stress if you don’t have other people in your life to support you. If your grandparent is your primary caregiver, you don’t have anyone else in your life to take care of you, that is a toxic stress. If you have a broken bone and you don’t have anything else and anyone to help you take care of it, that is a toxic stress. Right? So all these stressors can turn into toxic stress if you don’t have that person in your life to support you. And so kids, what do they need? They need that person in their life to support them. So toxic stress — we need, basically, to not have these happen to children. Do they happen? Yes, they do, unfortunately. So these are the ones that we’re most worried about. These are things like emotional abuse, exposure to violence, exposure to racism, exposure to physical abuse. Right? Exposure to a whole lot of things that are usually systems based or are based in anything prolonged, that’s some type of adversity, something that’s very strong or very frequent. And this does affect your brain development. So we do not want this to happen. Unfortunately, it does happen. So we have to do our best to mitigate this or counteract it in some way or try to remove the child from the situation that they’re in. So we just do our best to counteract it, remove the child or do something to make it better for the child. So there are a couple things we can do, which we can talk about next. What can we do to mitigate the impact of toxic stress? So what can you do? You can build resilience. So this is where the adults in the children’s life come in. Okay. First of all, we need to recognize our early childhood professionals. Early childhood professionals are brain builders. So if you know early childhood professionals in your life, if you know those early childhood professionals, you use them as your resource. They know all this stuff. And they can help you learn all of the things that you need to know. So we’re going to share a lot of things with you today. But if you have those people in your life that you can contact, use them as a resource to get even more information than we’re going to share with you today. They’ll give you activities. If you know home visitors, home visitors have a ton of resources. They are early childhood developers and brain builders too. So you can use community resources to support you. Health professionals. You know, use those community resources to support and to mitigate these toxic stressors in your child’s life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Right? That’s the number one thing. But just know that, you know, healthy adults in your child’s life are really going to help. And don’t be afraid to ask for that help. So we want to look at this sort of building an architecture of the brain and know that we need to reinforce those language skills, those hearing skills, those emotional skills, all those pieces of the brain. How can you do that brain architecture? So that’s by repetition and those positive skills. So Lainey is going to go into a lot more of how you do that. But you just want to remember that every interaction you have with that child really does matter. That’s really the key, that any interaction, they are like sponges. They’re going to absorb everything. So don’t forget that when you’re with them, they’re not going to forget it. So let’s just remember that anyone who interacts with the child is building their brain. So they’re absorbing, absorbing, absorbing. That’s parents, caregivers, any adult that comes into contact with them. So you are the single most common factor for children who develop anything, whether it’s resilience or not resilience, but definitely with resilience. So if you are there, if you are stable, if you’re committed and you’re supportive, that is a good thing for their brain architecture. So continue to do that work. And with that, I think I’m going to pass it over to Lainey.

>> Thanks, Cristina. That was all great information. And as Cristina mentioned earlier in the presentation, we’re also going to explore developmentally appropriate practice in play today. So developmentally appropriate practice, also known as DAP, is the approach early educators use to teach young children. This approach is grounded in research on how young children learn and includes culturally appropriate strategies to meet each child where they are in their learning. DAP also creates connections to real world experiences, helps children build skills through hands-on learning and prepares children for their future learning. In this approach, the focus is on supporting the development of the whole child rather than just the development of specific academic skills. When caregivers think of education, they might think of things like worksheets and spelling tests that were designed to assess the child’s level of academic knowledge. However, education is actually much more than that. In addition to academic skills such as reading, writing, and understanding math concepts, it’s important to support the development of other skills. For example, cognitive skills. This refers to things such as problem-solving, attention, and reasoning skills, all of which are important for completing schoolwork and maintaining focus. Secondly, there are gross and fine motor skills such as walking, crawling, balancing, and rhythm. These skills enable children to hold pencils, cut a piece of paper, catch a ball, and more. Thirdly, there are social and emotional skills. These skills help children work in teams, show empathy, express their emotions, gain confidence, and actively listen. All of these skills are important to a child’s success in school and in their future workplace. By focusing on a wider range of skills and the development of the whole child, rather than just an academic skill, you focus on your grandchild’s long-term success. And that’s where developmentally appropriate practice comes in. One of the most important elements of developmentally appropriate practice is that it acknowledges the role of play in children’s learning and development. And while play may seem like just a set of activities to fill time, it’s actually much more. So with that, I’m going to run through a few early learning myths and facts. As I just mentioned, a common myth about early learning is that play is something that professionals and caregivers used to fill time. That’s not true. The truth of the matter is that meaningful play experiences help children build background knowledge, imagination, and rational thought that enables skill development. To put it simply, play helps to create the foundation for later academic success and is actually the primary way that children use language and math concepts. Another common myth is that academic skills are the most important element of early learning and that caregivers and teachers should be focusing on teaching children letters, shapes, and numbers. As we explored a bit earlier, that’s just not true. While academic skills are important, there are many other skills that children need to succeed in the classroom. And because of that, teachers and caregivers need to focus on promoting social, emotional, and physical skills both in and out of the classroom. One of the best ways to do that is play. Through play, children will have opportunities to explore their feelings, form relationships with peers, and reduce their stress levels. Another myth is that for play to be meaningful, it has to have a purpose and that it would be best if a caregiver guided the child through play and supervised the entire session. While it’s important for caregivers to play with their children, unsupervised child-led play is also needed, as it helps children make decisions and become more independent. On that note, it’s important that play is always child-led. You can start off by providing an activity idea to a child. But let them take the lead from there. Or you can start off by asking what they would like to do. Children are most comfortable when they can use their senses to play, experiment, and learn. So by giving them opportunities to do that, you’re supporting their success and their development. The last myth that I’m going to mention is the myth that babies aren’t old enough to play. That’s not true. While play with a baby may look different to play with a toddler, there are still countless opportunities for play. For example, as Cristina mentioned earlier, a simple game of peekaboo is a great way to not only bond with your child but also practice things like eye contact, facial expressions, and object permanence. Now that we’ve debunked some common myths, we’re going to move on to our next activity, which will be a short video of children walking around the block with their teachers. During this video, I want you to watch carefully and think about what skills the children are learning.

>> Eyes ahead. Okay. All right. All right. Wait. Hold on. Stop. Remember, other people are working out there. So we have our bubbles in TJ, right? Till we get outside, we use our inside voices until we get outside. Okay? Inside voices. TJ, I need you to stop, okay? Wait till we get outside. All right? No, we’re not going to go off that door. What type of fig do we use? [inaudible]. TJ.

>> Hands down. [inaudible]. Bubbles. Let me see those bubbles.

>> We have to tie shoes. One second. We have to tie shoes.

[ Singing ]

Stay close to the sidewalk. Don’t go near the street, okay? You see a green one? What do you see that’s green?

>> Look at that big green one.

>> Yes.

[ Inaudible ]

Okay. Don’t step on them. Don’t step on the flowers. Amir, stand in your line. You will be able to see. I see — what colors do we? Purple and green.

>> Don’t step on them. Don’t step on them.

>> See the little white flowers that’s coming up, too?

>> See, it came up. Come over this way. There you go.

[ Inaudible ]

Keep coming. Keep coming. Grant, all the way down. Get your ring, Grant.

>> Grant, where is your ring?

>> There you go.

>> Hold on a [inaudible].

>> Right. We take turns going down the slide, right? No pushing.

>> And no fighting.

>> That’s right. One at a time. When you get up here, you don’t swing up on here because that’s too dangerous. It’s too high. It’s not up here. But you can swing down here.

>> You can slide down the slide one at a time.

>> One at a time. Okay? No running. Walk.

>> Be careful, guys. Watch where you’re running.

[ Music ]

> So what did you notice? What skills do the children practice? If you’d like, you can pause this video and take a few minutes to jot down skills that you found. If not, I’m going to run through a few that I noticed. So in the beginning of the video, we see the children waiting in line as their teachers talk to them. Just from that moment, you can see children following directions while practicing how to move their bodies and use their voices quietly. That in of itself is an opportunity for children to practice self-control and patience and listening and understanding directions for — from a teacher or from an adult in their lives. As the children were leaving the building, you may have noticed that they were singing a song together. Singing songs is a really fun and engaging way to practice rhythm, speaking, and patterns such as the repetition of “sun” in the song lyrics. Also, during their walk, children were identifying objects by color, which helps to practice observation skills and build vocabulary. As you can see, something as simple as a walk around the block can provide countless opportunities for children to build and practice their skills. And there are plenty of other opportunities to explore. For example, you can start off by asking your child’s early educator how they’re incorporating play in the classroom or by asking your grandchild’s school if they have a recess policy. By doing so, you gain a better understanding of how children are spending their day and the ways that children are learning and exploring. Another option is that you can start off by exploring fun and creative ways to incorporate play at home. You can even find ways to incorporate playful activities into your daily routine such as cooking, cleaning, travel and bathing. To support your journey with doing this, we’re going to walk through a few opportunities and ideas that you can incorporate. One thing that you can do is play with your grandchild in a water table to help them better understand math concepts like shapes and measurements, as well as science concepts like float, sink, and waves. One important thing to note here is that meaningful play doesn’t rely on expensive toys or items. So if you don’t have a water table at home, you can easily do this with a storage container, sink, or bathtub. Simply add water, pick out a few items from around the house, and start testing a few ideas out. During this process or other types of play, make sure to ask your grandchild questions about the activity, encourage them to experiment, and help them understand the cause and effect of what you’re doing during play. For example, when playing with objects in water, you can ask questions like, “What do you think will happen when I drop this in the water? Why do you think that will happen?” Another thing you can do is allow your grandchild to construct stories during imaginative play. This type of play creates a strong foundation for creative writing skills. Let your grandchild lead the story and create their own characters. You can also provide opportunities for your grandchild to recreate familiar books or situations during play, which will help them better understand characters and their emotions. For another fun element, you can try recreating the characters’ outfits and props as well. One important note is that incorporating familiar scenarios is actually something that children do naturally through play. And you can learn a lot about what they’re thinking and worried about by observing their play. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may see your grandchildren playing doctor with their toys or running through scenarios where one of their toys is sick or needs to wear a mask. This type of play is completely natural and is not a reason for concern unless your grandchild is demonstrating significant distress. Play is a way for children to ask questions, express concerns, and reshape a narrative. Through play, they get to drive the plot and control the outcome. Building on this, you can take turns with your grandchild in contributing ideas to imagined scenarios and provide opportunities for them to make choices in their play. In addition to imaginative and dramatic play, it’s also important to provide unstructured physical play opportunities for your child. Moving our bodies and practicing motor skills is really important during early childhood. So try out different physical activities like recreating animal poses during a developmentally appropriate yoga session or going to your local park to play on the balance beams or run around or practice balancing. Really, any type of physical movement that you can have with your grandchild is great. If you’re the grandparent of an infant or baby, there are plenty of play opportunities available for you. For example, you can start off by looking the baby in the eyes, singing songs to them and interacting with them regularly through play activities like peekaboo and fingerplays. This will help you build a bond with your baby while also practicing social, emotional, and motor skills. You can also introduce the child to new items and materials to expose them to new textures, sizes, and weights. Let them touch the items and work to figure out what they do and how they work. You can also do this at mealtime. With supervision, you can give your grandchild their own spoon to eat with or even give them a child safe bowl and spoon to play with. This will give them an opportunity to practice holding their spoon and controlling where it goes. You can also give your grandchild blocks and balls to strengthen their grip and holding skills. When interacting with a baby, make sure to be expressive with your face and make eye contact. This will teach them different social expressions that help with nonverbal communication. You can also take this time to introduce them to the names of emotions while acting them out such as happy, mad, sad, confused, scared. And the list goes on. And finally, broaden your grandchild’s horizon by taking a stroll through nature or somewhere outside. Narrate what you see, smell, hear and feel during the jury to help your grandchild learn new vocabulary and gain the ability to put a word to a sense that they’re experiencing. If you’re interested in learning more about play and developmentally appropriate practice, we highly recommend checking out Trying Together’s online developmentally appropriate parenting series. The series features a wide range of resources that explain DAP, early learning, and play. All of the resources we use to develop information for this presentation can be found by using the links on this slide. In addition to this, there are countless resources available from organizations such as the Playful Pittsburgh collaborative, the CDC, and Zero to Three. We curated a shortlist of our favorites on this slide. However, you can find a longer list by visiting the Developmentally Appropriate Parenting series at /family-resources. Thank you so much for sticking with us during this presentation. If you have any questions about the session, please feel free to contact either Cristina or me through email or phone. In addition to this presentation, Trying Together has several other recorded sessions available for grandparents on the Trying Together website. Thank you. Have a great day.