Welcome again guest blogger Jamie Smith, ISU Environmental Rating Scale Assessor.
We know it’s vital for infants to have open space on the floor to play, but how do we keep them safe from older children? In the eyes of a toddler or preschooler, infants can be like a shiny new toy. The urge to touch and play with the new “toy” can be overwhelming. Children don’t have the intention to hurt an infant, but sometimes their natural curiosity can pose a threat to non-mobile infants. I’ve listed some tips and techniques that I have observed or used below. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts – we can all use fresh ideas!
Establish boundaries. Some programs set aside space specifically for non-mobile infants. Designating a corner of the room for infant play (a rug with rattles, cloth books, and other infant materials) provides older children with a visible difference in play areas.
Don’t have room to designate a specific space? Use a blanket or mat to indicate a non-mobile infant’s personal space. Blankets and mats are portable, so you can move the child to different areas of the program while still being able to supervise all children.
Keep active play areas separated from infants on the floor. Designate a safe place for children to dance or use active toys away from non-mobile infants. This will keep the area around the infant less active and less likely to cause injury.
However you arrange the space used for floor play by non-mobile infants, remember supervision is key. Arrange all play areas to enable you to both visually supervise and also move quickly to a different area if your help is needed.
Help children learn appropriate ways to interact with babies. Remember, we encourage children to be curious and explore their world, and with supervision, children can safely satisfy their curiosity about babies, too. Providing interested children with their own baby doll to care for can help them practice what they see and take on some “grown-up” tasks.
Another way children can safely interact with non-mobile infants is to help when appropriate. Bringing the infant a favorite toy or stuffed animal can make an older child feel important and allow them to safely interact with an infant. Make polite requests like “Baby Alex is laying here on his blanket. Can you tell him a story while I get his bottle?”
Use those “teachable moments” to encourage social skills. Help children understand privacy and personal space. Use phrases such as “You know, Baby Kate is playing by herself right now. I don’t think she wants you to touch her. Can you build a tall tower with blocks instead? I’ll bring Kate over to see it when you’re done.”
Use infant attempts to communicate to teach older children how to respond to verbal and non-verbal cues from others. Provide language such as “Baby Leo is crying right now. Do you think he’s hungry or do you think he needs a diaper change?” and “Wow! Look at Keisha smile. She must really like that you’re singing to her.”
Keep older children busy. Access to plenty of toys and materials keeps children occupied. If older children are engaged in their own activities, the non-mobile infants in your program may seem less exciting to them.
How do you support both non-mobile infants and older children with floor play? Let us know at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/give-me-space/.
Many children’s books deal with the topic of new babies. Even if babies aren’t new to your program, these books can help children gain an understanding of infants. Some examples include:
- The New Baby at Your House, by Joanna Cole
- The Berenstein Bears New Baby, by Stan and Jan Berenstein
- A New Baby is Coming, by Emily Menendez-Aponte
Books about feelings help all children begin to recognize feelings and practice reacting to them.
- The Feelings Book, by Todd Parr
- Lots of Feelings, by Shelley Rotner
- Feelings, by Aliki
The book Personal Space Camp, by Julia Cook, is geared toward older preschool and school-aged children, and provides knowledge and an understanding of personal space that will help children in many situations.