YOUNG CHILDREN AS ACTIVE LEARNERS
Teachers and caregivers create an environment for young children to be active learners. Infants, toddlers, and two-year-olds develop social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language skills when they explore the environment, its materials, and form trusting relationships with their teachers and caregivers.
A variety of materials inspire young children to explore actively. As an infant’s hand grasps a rattle and moves, the rattle makes a noise. That simple event, repeated over and over, will eventually lead the infant to discover that the rattle will only make a noise when it is moved or shaken. The world, and specifically the materials in their environment, is a cause and effect discovery for them. Every movement becomes an exploration and the effect it has during that process. Children explore using all their senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. They gain valuable information about their world through their senses. They will use this information and their interactions with the materials to build further knowledge and to use later in life.
Being active explorers allows children to grow and develop physically. As young children grasp, pull, fill and dump, stack, roll, and toss toys, children are strengthening the small muscles in their hands and fingers. This also helps to develop eye-hand coordination. Carrying larger toys develops large muscles as they push and pull toys such as wagons and riding toys. Balls are wonderful for delighting children as they roll, hold, chase, and throw balls of all types. Young children can grasp balls that have an open weave or pattern. Varying textures also create a different sensation along with different weighted balls and oddly shaped ones. Adding another dimension to balls are clear balls with contents inside and weighted balls that further enhance cause and effect discoveries.
Filling the environment with interesting objects such as activity boxes, puzzles, cars and vehicles, blocks, and push and pull toys, creates wonder and fosters language skills as teachers give words to the materials and actions children are doing. As teachers and caregivers direct children’s attention to toys, name them, and describe their action, children are learning interesting language. Toys that are appealing with colors, light, textures, and sounds inspire conversations, especially if the caregiver shows interest in children’s explorations.
Teachers and caregivers enhance young children’s development by providing a safe and stimulating environment for children to explore, providing materials that are appealing and open-ended, establishing consistent routines that allow children to anticipate events, responding consistently to the children’s cues, and exposing children to language stimulation. In this type of environment children will develop skills that will help them grow, learn, and develop into life-long active learners.
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