Transcript: Everyday Interactions Matter

Presented by Sarah Grubb

Parenting Together Pathway, Trying Together

>> Welcome, everyone. I am so glad that you are deciding to take this course offered by Trying Together. This video is part of the Parenting Together Pathway, which is a series of sessions to provide high-quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and our surrounding areas. We encourage you to follow us, Trying Together, on social media and subscribe to our newsletter for great information about early learning. So welcome, and thank you so much for being here with us. My name is Sarah Grubb. I am the Everyday Interactions Design Strategist with Trying Together in the Early Learning Resource Center here in Allegheny County. I’m looking forward to diving into the material today with you. And if you have any questions at all, please feel free to reach out to me via the email on this slide. I would be more than happy to connect with you. So here at Trying Together, we aim to support high-quality care and education for young children through advocacy, community resources, and professional growth opportunities for the needs and rights of children, their families, and the individuals who interact with them. Together with the Early Learning Resource Center Region 5, we provide a single point of contact for Allegheny County families, early learning service providers, and communities to gain information and access services that support high-quality childcare and learning programs. And this workshop is called Everyday Interactions Matter, Noticing the Simple and Ordinary. And in this video session, we’re going to be diving into the importance of our most ordinary, most everyday interactions that we share and their impact on the development of young children. So that means today, we’re going to be observing video footage of authentic interactions. We’re going to delve into what a positive interaction is, so what makes up a positive interaction, and we’re going to be recognizing moments of connection, of sharing, and of a sense of belonging in the interactions that we witness together today. But before we really dig into the material, I would just like to take a moment to pause. You do so many different things during your days and give so much energy and time to other people as a caregiver. Right now, we can just pause and take a moment. And I’d like you to use this moment to just check-in with yourself. How are you feeling? How are you doing in this moment? If you’d like, you can think of one word that describes how you’re feeling or an image. But above all, just know where you’re coming from because whatever you bring to the table, what you’re going through in each moment, how you’re feeling, and your particular presence brings so much to your interactions and your relationships with the children that you care for. Whether or not you’re feeling grief or worry or joy, just know where your starting point is as we begin this session. And this session is centered on relationships. And very central to these relationships are these ordinary moments that you share with the children that you care for. And my hope for this workshop is that you really allow yourself to focus on the heart of your relationships with others, especially with the children in your care. And with that, we can begin with Fred Rogers. So many of you already know that Fred Rogers really dedicated his life’s work to creating meaningful children’s media. He created over a thousand episodes of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood on public television. And if you’ve seen him in his programming or if you’ve seen him in relationship with others, you’ve really seen him model the kind of human relationships that foster trust and that provide support that inspire respect. So he really found a way to connect with young children through using media and also through this focus on cultivating relationships. And Fred Rogers was really dedicated to this idea that we all learn best through relationships. And here we’re not just talking about young children learning through relationships. We’re talking about adults. We’re talking about your family members, you, me, all of us. We all learn best through relationships. He taught us all also that it was important to grow on the inside, so really developing that richness of our inner worlds and our inner resources. And he also believed that technology must be used in meaningful ways. So with the intent of building relationships, of creating discussion, and of supporting connection as well. Fred Rogers also believed that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex. Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex. And without a doubt, we are really living in a complex time right now. So something that we will be exploring in this workshop is how can we bring ourselves into deep and simple relating to others during a very complex time. So how can we really just sift through all those layers of complexity and center ourselves in what is deep and simple about relating with one another? And so that brings us to this question. What is deep and simple in our work with children? So just take a look at this photograph. What do you notice about this photo? What do you notice about the caregiver? About the child? You might be noticing the child making eye contact with the caregiver. You might notice the close proximity of the two people in this picture. The child looks like she might be saying something like she might be about to make a sound or make a social connection. You might be feeling something while looking at this photo. You might be feeling warmth or safety. You might be feeling loss or grief. Some people look at the mask, and they’re reminded of the gravity of what is happening. So just think about this question. What do you notice? We’re going to be watching a few video clips during this workshop. And this first video clip is one that was captured in China and centers on a caregiver and three children. So right now, I would like you just to watch this interaction closely and just notice. What do you notice about the children in this video? What do you notice about the adults, the environment? What do you notice?

[ Video Playing ]

So what did you notice? You might have noticed the children smiling. There was a lot of laugher and smiles in this interaction. You might have noticed the caregiver leaning in and kind of initiating play with the children. You may have noticed everyone taking turns. Kind of everyone leaning in together. And think about the environment. What did you notice about the environment or the materials? You may have noticed the environment was pretty simple, right? Not a ton of toys in the background. The material they were using looked like maybe a pen with a tissue stuck on top. So very simple materials. So as we’re talking about the elements of this interaction, you are beginning to define what is deep and simple in our relating with children. Someone who explored this question in depth is Dr. Junlei Li. He is now a Senior Lecturer of Early Childhood Education at Harvard University. But he was once the Co-Director of the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Dr. Li has been an enormous part of continuing the legacy of Fred Rogers. Dr. Li’s research has centered on growth and development of young children and especially those children in under-resourced communities. So he and his research team spent many hours taking video footage of interactions between children and adults and studying how children grow and how they grow in situations with limited access to space, limited access to materials, or other resources. So his research team really wondered what is deep and simple in our work with children. And so Dr. Li thought hard about this question, and as the story goes, one night while he was helping his daughters brush their teeth, he didn’t have much else to do, so he took a look at the back of the tube of toothpaste. And if you read the toothpaste label, you’ll find a lot of facts and warnings, and ingredient lists. Dr. Li noticed two categories that stood out to him, active ingredients and inactive ingredients. The active ingredient of this toothpaste was sodium mono fluorophosphate. So its purpose is cavity prevention. That active ingredient is the whole point of brushing your teeth, right? And then to the right, you see these inactive ingredients. There’s no purposes or functions listed. So the inactive ingredients, they don’t really work. They don’t really do much without the active ingredient. So Dr. Li wondered, what is the active ingredient that promotes children’s positive growth and development? So let’s pause there with that question. What is the active ingredient that promotes children’s positive development? So let’s pause with that, and let’s take a look at a few photographs. So take a look at this photo. We can see a lot of great toys that the children can reach themselves and they can choose from. We want to see a lot of light coming in those windows, a lot of great materials, right? But by looking at the photo, can you tell that the children feel a sense of belonging here? So just think about that. And what about this photo? So a nice outdoor playground space for children. So, you know, maybe this is a lot like a playground space that you take the children that you care for to, right? So just looking at this photo, are you able to know that children are being cared for? That they are supported in their positive development by looking at this photograph? So just think about it. And what about this one? What can you learn from looking at this caregiver and child? What about this one? What can you learn about the connection and care happening in this photograph? The active ingredient of children’s positive development lies in these last two photographs. Resources and environmental factors are useful only when they enrich and empower the growth of human interactions between children and adults. So think about the photos of the play areas with no people in them. You know, think about the children’s toys that you have available for children. Those beautiful materials are the inactive ingredients. They are really only useful if they help us to connect, to interact in a positive way. And think back on the caregiver in China and think of the materials they were using. You know, was that pen with the tissue on it particularly important? Not really, right? It was there to support the interaction taking place, the relationships that you build with young children are the single active ingredient in a child’s positive growth. Human relationships are primary in all of living. When the gusty winds blow and shake our lives, if we know that people care about us, we may bend with the wind, but we won’t break. Your supportive presence is the essential component of a child’s learning and growing — the active ingredient. So it’s your influence on children that really builds resilience, that allows them to bend in the wind. And research supports this over and over again. So we know that no matter what sort of stress or adversity a child has been through, children who develop this resilience, so this ability to bounce back from stress and trauma, they have had at least one stable and committed relationship with an adult. And that adult or one of those adults is you. The role that you have as a caregiver of children is absolutely critical to a child’s learning and growing. You are critical to their emotional well-being to their developing this sense of belonging, this sense of safety in the world. So it’s really these relationships that you build with children that form the base of their positive growth. So we have to ask ourselves, what makes up our relationships? Just think of your answer to that question. Some people say trust. Some people say being seen. Respect, honesty. And when we take these larger relational values down to their most basic components, we can see that we build trust through our everyday interactions. We can see that we, you know, we show people that we see them through our everyday interactions. We build mutual trust and respect through our everyday interactions. So when we really break it down, our relationships are built upon these ordinary, everyday interactions that we share. So that brings us to what does that even mean? What does it mean to interact? If interactions are so important to a child’s development, what does that mean? So I want you to think about the first word that comes to mind when you hear that word interact. Some people say things like connect, give and take, respond, relate to, communicate. So as we — in saying these words, we’re starting to kind of define what it means to us to interact, but what does it mean — let’s take this even further, what does it mean to have a good adult-child interaction? How can you even tell? How do you know when you’re having one? So I’d just like you to hold that question in your mind as we move forward. What does it mean to have a good child-adult interaction? How do you know when you’re having one? So just hold that in mind as we move forward. And if you need to take a break from this video, this is a great time during the workshop to kind of pause the video, get up and move around, take a break, take care of anything that you need to take care of. So if you need to, go ahead and hit pause, and come on back for the rest of the workshop whenever you’re ready. So before the break, I asked you, what does it mean to have a good adult-child interaction, and how can you tell if you’re having one? So Dr. Li’s research on interactions lead him to these elements. This is really the heart of a positive interaction, and it’s very simple. You do this all the time, every day — adult-child-activity. And the activity really could be anything. Here it is. It looks like maybe a face painting experience, but it could be blowing bubbles together. It could be as simple as changing a child’s diaper and connecting while doing that or helping them watch their hands. So the heart of a positive interaction is really this triangle, adult-child-activity. So it’s very simple, but it really sets the stage for positive, supportive interactions. Also, during Dr. Li’s research, he and his team developed this tool. It’s called the simple interactions tool. This is a tool for noticing and appreciating human interactions. So this is not a tool that tells you what you’re doing wrong or what you’re doing right. This is more of a noticing tool, a tool to help us understand the interactions that we experience as human beings and as caregivers as children. So with this tool, we can ask ourselves, what are we noticing about our interactions? How are we managing positive interactions during challenging times? So rather than focusing on doing right or doing wrong, this is really a tool that helps us notice what we are already doing to connect — what we are already doing to promote reciprocity, to promote inclusion, and to offer opportunities for children to grow. So these are the four areas that Dr. Li and his research team observed in human interactions. So let’s start with the first two, connection and reciprocity. Connection is this being mutually in tune, so connecting, interacting with mutually positive or appropriate emotions. So being present, being in tune with one another. And this doesn’t always mean connecting with positive emotions, right? If a child is sad, we might approach the child with a neutral expression, maybe a softer voice. We would be connecting and attuning together with what that child is going through. Reciprocity is serve and return. So you can think of this tennis match, and one person serves the ball, kind of serves, an invitation to interact, and the other returns it. And that game continues really for as long as the participants wanted to. And this kind of back and forth, you could use your body, you could use, you know, your speech. There are a lot of different ways to promote kind of this serve and return interaction, and we’ll take a closer look at this coming up. But this reciprocity, this serve and return really also lights up the important areas that the brain dedicated to social connection for young children. So think about these two, connection and reciprocity. And we will take a look at a video of an interaction between a physical therapist and a child.

[ Video Playing ]

So what did you notice about this interaction? Think about that. And how do you know that the physical therapist is connecting with the child? In what ways does reciprocity really play out in this interaction? So you may have noticed there was a lot of eye contact on both ends, right? They are really in tune with their eye contact, the child, and the physical therapist. And we can see this reciprocity in the physical therapist’s body. So not only is she responding to the child’s cues with her voice, but she’s also using her shoulder her hands to respond to the child’s, you know, invitations to interact. So we can see that serve and return really shining in this interaction. And if you’re wearing a mask when you are caring for children, you have likely had to shift some of your usual tools for connection and reciprocity. So you might be putting more emphasis on your tone, your body language, your eye contact. You know, these tools that we have, you know, now mean more if we’re wearing face coverings that hide our mouths. So you might be getting down at child’s level more often so they can really see the subtly of your facial expressions through your eyes. You might be more mindful of relaxing your body and hands so children can use your body language cues of calm from your whole body. And, again, these are tools we can use at all times. So when you see these elements of connection and reciprocity play out in this interaction, you can see how these small tools that you use each day form these important elements of connection and reciprocity. I’m sure you’re all thinking of moments of your days that you share with children, and you experience connection, and you experience reciprocity. So let’s take a closer look at the simple interactions tool. And as you can see, when we look at kind of the breakdown of each of these elements, we can see three different columns, X, Y, and Z. All of these columns, the X, Y, and Z areas, are all areas of interaction that we’ve experienced as human beings. So if we look under connection, the red portion, we can see in the X area, the adult and the child are facing each other and are experiencing friction, right? Or they’re looking away and are detached. We can all remember times when this was the case. In the y area, we might be mismatched. The adult and the child are mismatched. You can see by their facial expressions. And in the Z area, we can see mutually present and in-tune connection. So, again, I’m sure you’re thinking of all these different ways that these types of interactions have come up throughout your days. And in the reciprocity area, we can see in the X portion, there’s this one-sided control on the part of the adult and resistance on the part of the child. So, again, we can think of times when these sorts of interactions — when we experience these sorts of interactions. And in the Y portion, we see one-sided control with compliance. So the child is agreeing to follow the adult’s rules or the adult’s lead. And in the X area, we can see participation on both sides. So that’s that serve and return that we spoke about. So when we’re thinking about these X, Y, Z areas, you know, we can, again, we can think about experiences of ours that we’ve had in all of these areas. These are all very human interactions. And we can also ourselves, do I spend more time in X? Do I spend more of my time in Z? So what is happening in your interactions? What tools are you using when you are in the Z are of connecting or the Z area of reciprocity. So really think about the tools that you’re using when you are in these areas, especially in this Z area of being mutually present or of experiencing this two-way serve and return. So let’s take a look at the other elements of this tool — the last two. The inclusion, also known as belonging, and opportunities to grow. So inclusion we are inviting and involving all, especially those who are least likely or least able to engage. And we know that this really could be any child in any given situation depending on the activity or the group side or whatever it might be. So inviting and involving all, especially those who are least likely or least able to engage. Opportunities to grow this is scaffolding and fading. So when you are with children, and they are learning a new task, you might offer support for them each step of the way. And then there’s a point where you might decide that the child is ready to take the next leap on their own, so you fade out your support and watch the child take that leap to the next skill. So think about these two again — inclusion or belonging and opportunities to grow. We’re gonna take a look at a video that was filmed in the Pittsburgh area.

[ Music ]

>> Good job, Shamaya [phonetic]! You did it.

>> Good job.

>> No, no, no. Stop [inaudible] do it.

>> Want me to do [inaudible]?

>> Yes, you do because you’re getting ready to do it all over the place.

>> Mommy, Mommy.

>> Hold on. I thought you said you don’t know even know. [Inaudible] call me Mommy. Go ahead. All the way to the end.

>> All the way up.

>> Go.

>> There.

>> Yep.

>> Oh, we’re missing a paper. We’re missing a paper.

>> Watch your fingers.

>> We’ve got to get it under there in the middle.

>> All the way up. OK. Wait. Come on [multiple speakers]. Watch your fingers.

>> That’s an open-shut, open-shut, open-shut. Open, good job.

>> Up, up, good girl. Go, go, go, go, [inaudible], yay!

>> Good job. You did it.

>> All right. Now you want to do another color. Yes. [Inaudible] red down. Put this one down. Let’s do another red — yellow strip.

>> Just like me.

>> Can you go all the way up? OK. Now, here, you want to try this one by yourself?

>> Yeah.

>> That’s it. All the way. Hold the paper. Go all the way up [multiple speakers]. Ready. This way. This way. Here we go. OK. Let’s go this way. Turn all the way around [inaudible]. Yay!

>> I know how to do it. Just like [inaudible] like me.

>> There you go.

>> Don’t stop.

>> Open. Open.

>> Hold this.

>> Very good. Now take it out, Kayla. Here I come. Hold on [multiple speakers]. Keep going.

>> Got it.

>> Keep going. Keep going.

>> Thank you.

>> I want you to cut strips of every color paper you have, OK? Need help, Kendell [assumed spelling].

>> This one. I’ll hold it.

>> Watch your fingers.

>> Go all the way up.

>> Good girl.

>> Right here [multiple speakers].

>> You made it. There you go. You got it [multiple speakers]?

>> See, you did it! You made a strip.

>> [Inaudible] like this too.

>> You want to try to make another strip? Just go all the way up.

>> I make a strip already.

>> Yes, you made a strip right there. Let’s go this way [inaudible], OK? All the way up.

>> Open, close them, open, close them.

>> There you go. Good girl.

>> Good job [multiple speakers].

>> Open, shut. Very good. Open — open — open. All the way up. Start right here.

>> We have some blue and some green.

>> Oh, I got lots [multiple speakers].

[ Music ]

>> Whoa! Yay! I did it.

>> You try to do [multiple speakers]. You did it?

>> [Inaudible] I did it.

>> I see it. Can you make another one?

[ Music ]

>> So think about what you noticed in that interaction. In what ways did the educator encourage inclusion? In what ways did she encourage opportunities for the children to grow? You have noticed that she was providing those supports for the child in using scissors, right? She was providing a lot of support and guidance, and then she made that skilled decision of when to fade out with her support, right, and allow the child to go on her own. And that is that scaffolding and fading. And she also gave this extra attention to the child who was least able — or maybe, yeah, least able to engage. Right? She knew the children in her care really well and their abilities. And in this case, decided to focus her support on one child. And then know, as I said earlier, know when to fade out that support. And we can see the difference in the support that she gave to the other children. Some children just needed a little boost, right? You want to do another color, kind of get her going, and other children — the child in the center needed more attention and more support. So this is something that you all do, and these are skills that you all practice in your work with children and your connections with children. So, again, let’s think about these last two, inclusion or belonging and opportunities to grow. Again, we have these X, Y, and Z areas. So in the X area of inclusion, we have one child being excluded from the group. In the Y area, we have the child being attended to separately, right? The adult is responding to the child individually. And then, in the Z area, we see the child, and all children are invited and included into that group. And then when we’re giving children opportunities to grow, this can play out in different ways as well. In the X area, we might have unrealistic or undemanding expectations. Or we might be encouraging a child we’ve all, you know, been in this situation where we might be giving expectations to a child that is too big of a leap. They aren’t able to make it there. And then we might have in the Y area, this support, this incremental challenge, and we are providing support, support, support all the way through. And then in the Z area, we are providing the support and allowing that child to take that independent step on their own. That’s the scaffolding and fading that we see and that we saw very clearly in that video clip as well. So you’re probably thinking about specific times in which you’ve spent time in each of these areas of inclusion and opportunity to grow. So you can really ask yourself, what skills am I using when I am in the Z area of belonging and inclusion? What tools am I using when I’m in this Z area of giving children opportunities to grow? So this scaffolding and fading. So really think about the ways that these interactions show up and the time that you’re spending in each one and also really focus on that Z area. What are the tools that you are using? Just as we saw in the video clip, what are the tools that we are using to invite and involve all and the tools that we are using for this scaffolding and fading? And we are living in a potentially difficult time when it comes to interactions. So some questions that come up are, can we, you know, especially that came up at first, can we still access these elements of a positive interaction while wearing a mask while in a pandemic? While we are spending more time online, while are more politically polarized, when we, you know when we just have so much on our minds each and every day. And the truth about it is that you are already connecting with children. You are already engaging in reciprocity. You are already promoting inclusion and belonging, and you are giving children opportunities to grow. Even amidst all sorts of complexity. So really take moments to recognize when you are engaging in these areas of positive interacting. And when you think about your own interactions with young children, my guess is that in these video clips that we watched today that you really see yourself in a lot of these moments. You can see yourself sharing moments like these. So really take the time to notice that expertise, to notice the skill that you bring to your interactions with children. And that brings us back to this question that we began with. What is deep and simple in our work with children? So let’s take another look at this video. What I didn’t mention when we watched this before is that this moment, this interaction occurred in an orphanage in China. The woman in the video began to work in the orphanage because her family farm wasn’t doing well, so she went to work here at the orphanage. She and her husband are also foster parents in the community. And this is a really special community that, as a whole, fosters children with disabilities. This caregiver is educated to the eighth-grade level. The girl in her lap has cerebral palsy and is eight years old. One of the boys has Downs syndrome. The other has limited use of his arms and legs. And as we noticed before, they have very simple learning materials in their classroom. So let’s just watch this interaction again with this new information.

[ Video Playing ]

So we could look at this situation in this orphanage, and we could think there are a lot of obstacles here to learning and growth, and we could also look at our situation now or at any time really, and we could also think, you know, wow, there are a lot of obstacles here to connection, to learning, and to growth. But we can see from this video the profound connection that can occur in such a small interaction. Even when circumstances are not what we might consider ideal. And this is work that you do with the children that you care for every single day. You use connection. You use reciprocity. You invite and involve all children, and you give them opportunities to grow. I want to end with this message from Fred Rogers.

>> In the day-to-day routine of feeding, diapering, changing clothes, supervising play, wiping tears, it’s often hard to remember how essential your adult presence is in the lives of the children who come to you for care. Above all, it’s your being there that matters the most. It’s the gift of your honest self that makes the biggest difference in your children’s lives. I sometimes wonder if, as caregivers, you ever realize how extremely important you are. You know, none of us can ever be fully aware of the whole story of any child who comes to us, all that’s happened at home, all that’s going on inside each little body and mind, but we can know is that every one of them, young and old, longs to be cherished. We long to know there’s a welcome for us in this world. I thank you for the way you help children feel welcome by the giving of your own special care and by the receiving of the unique care your children give to you. There’s no better gift. I wish you well in all the caregiving and receiving of your life.

>> I’d like to thank you so much for spending time participating in this workshop. And thank you so much for the essential, very important work that you do supporting the positive growth of children. So here are some resources that you can feel free to access, including the Everyday Interactions Matter web page, and there’s also the expanded Simple Interactions Tool if you would like to take a look at it here as well. And there are a number of other sessions available on the Parenting Together Pathway website for you to view. And here are a few resources from trying together that we offer to families. One of which is the Allegheny Child Care. If you are a caregiver seeking child care for early learning, after school, out of school, summer camp, and virtual programs, you can use this Allegheny Child Care tool to search all available open spots in Allegheny County. The Early Learning Resource Center Region 5, this is where families can gain information and services that support high-quality childcare and early learning programs as well. The Homewood Early Learning Hub and Family Center is for families in Homewood or the surrounding areas who are looking for activities for their children and individual and group support for parents. The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series is on the Trying Together website, and you can navigate a variety of topics here related to early childhood. And there is new content that they add throughout the year as well. And as part of the Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series, families can opt in to receive cards with helpful information mailed directly to them as they are developed. So if you would like to enroll in that program where you can receive these cards with this helpful early childhood developmental information on them, you can enroll in this program and provide feedback on the Parenting Together Pathway series through this link that’s on the screen. Thank you so much again for participating in this course on everyday interactions. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, to connect with me about supportive interactions with children. Again, thank you so much, and enjoy your day today, and I hope — we hope to see you very soon.


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Image: An early learning professional works with a young student to put together a puzzle of a young boy.
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