Beautiful Beginnings: Building on Babies' Strengths
Watch for babies’ emerging developments and offer experiences that let them practice what they seem most interested in
If you are an early childhood professional, at one time or another you have probably heard young or inexperienced parents say, Babies can’t do anything!
But of course, you know better.
The time span from birth to age 3 marks an amazing period of development during which the child’s brain grows faster than at any other time during life. This is when children acquire language and develop fundamental relationships with caregivers that contribute to lifetime patterns of trust, communication, and emotional regulation.
Studies have demonstrated that parents of well-developing babies continually, almost unconsciously, expand on their children’s thinking, events, and conversations.
When, for example, a child brings an item to show her parents and the parents expand on the concept, word, or action, they are encouraging the child’s development. Most of these interactions take about 30 seconds, but they occur hundreds of times in the course of a normal day. Naturally, parents have to be very attuned to their child’s development to know what idea they should introduce next.
For inexperienced or disadvantaged parents, the “next idea” might be an alien concept.
Children Learn Best When Experiences Are Tied to Their Developmental Readiness
You can help those parents, who might not think to engage their baby or wouldn’t know how even if they wanted to, by providing developmentally appropriate experiences such as those found in Beautiful Beginnings, the new developmental curriculum for infants and toddlers.
Beautiful Beginnings, developed and tested by veteran Early Head Start professionals, contains a whole menu of activities, grouped into six age groups in key developmental areas, that caregivers can introduce to support babies’ development.
In their own programs, Helen Raikes and Jane Whitmer coached caregivers on how to tune in to a child’s readiness for new experiences by prompting them with questions such as:
- What’s happening with Annie?
- When did Kumar start pointing to everything, asking, Dat?
- How can we respond to Ellie and what seems to be her passion for music?
- Did you notice how responsive Latrice is to color and light?
- What are we doing to encourage Camilla to communicate with people around her and to help her engage socially?
They then suggested developmentally appropriate activities to build on the children’s emerging skills and interests. After repeated requests from others, Raikes and Whitmer organized their activities and formalized their program into what is now the Beautiful Beginnings curriculum.
Tip Flexible Is Fine
The activities in Beautiful Beginnings are grouped by children's ages, but they are not designed to be followed rigidly. They are, rather, a "menu" of ideas, generally corresponding to developmental sequences. Each child is unique in his development, so experiences may be selected across age spans.
Tip Screen for Development
To identify children who may need added enrichment, you may want to consult a developmental screener such as Ages & Stages Questionnaires. A screener is a brief instrument that takes a look at whether a child appears to be developing typically and flags whether more in-depth assessment is needed.
Tip Take It Easy
The activities in the curriculum should flow naturally and easily. Some parents, if under high levels of stress, may find the experiences neither natural nor easy. It is important for the professional to model a relaxed approach, help parents select activities that are easy to do, and support parents in finding natural opportunities to make the experiences fun.
How These Programs Use Beautiful Beginnings
To illustrate how Beautiful Beginnings is used in practice, we talked to Lisa Knoche, Ph.D., project director of The Getting Ready Project at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We asked Dr. Knoche to share her experience with Beautiful Beginnings:
Q: Can you tell us a little about your project?
A: The Getting Ready Project is part of a large federal initiative (one of eight projects nationally) intended to study evidence-based practices for promoting children’s learning and social-emotional development across the early years to find out “what works.”
The purpose of our project is to investigate the effects of a comprehensive strengths-based intervention [building on what the child does well and is interested in] on child learning, social-emotional and behavioral outcomes, and parent engagement behaviors with children birth to 5.
Community partners will join with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on this project to follow about 600 children for 2-year periods each, across the 5 years of the project. We are working with both center-based and home-based programs, including Early Head Start, Head Start, and a high school parenting program.
Q: How are the programs using Beautiful Beginnings?
A: Beautiful Beginnings is being used as a supplemental curriculum in Early Head Start programs as well as in StudentParent child care centers in four Lincoln high schools.
In the Early Head Start programs, home visitors work in partnership with parents to select activities from the curriculum. They then implement the activities together, or leave the activities for parents to do with their children.
In the StudentParent program, professionals work with adolescent parents to select appropriate activities for their children. Professionals in these center-based programs also use the curriculum to support infant/toddler development on a daily basis in their work with children, using both group and individual formats.
Q: What do people who use Beautiful Beginnings seem to like best about it?
A: We have received many positive responses from people using the curriculum in the field. Early childhood professionals appreciate that the curriculum is easy to use and allows them to easily provide handouts and materials to parents.
Parents find the materials very user-friendly; the curriculum informs them of the developmental stages (and appropriate expectations) for their young children, across a variety of domains.
Importantly, the majority of activities are based on materials that are readily available in homes or can be easily located. The charts included in the curriculum are a useful tool in selecting activities. They also highlight the developmental progress of children and emphasize the wide variety of developmental domains a child is continually experiencing.
Q: Do you have any other observations about Beautiful Beginnings?
A: Beautiful Beginnings provides both early childhood professionals and families a solid foundation from which they can investigate the development of infants and toddlers. It has been exciting for parents, particularly in the Student Parent Program, to have developmental material available to support their young children’s development.
Many times, professionals report hearing that, Babies can’t do anything. This curriculum highlights the amazing developmental accomplishments that occur from birth to age 3, and provides a well-organized framework for supporting early learning!