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To plan effectively for the 0-2 Years age group takes a little thinking outside the box. You need to give yourself permission as an educator to work differently, use an alternate planning system,document then reflect and communicate in a way that perhaps you haven't used before when working previously with older children - but makes a whole lot more sense when it comes to meeting learning outcomes for babies and toddlers.
In this blog series - Planning & Play for Babies & Toddlers I'm sharing with you ideas to help make planning play experiences and programming for this age group not only easier and faster but also more meaningful and effective for the children and carers.
What will this Baby/Toddler Planning & Play Series Cover?
The WHAT. The WHY. The HOW
This first post in the series shares with you WHAT it is we actually need to do as early childhood educators working with Babies & Toddlers, WHY we need to do this when it comes to meeting not only the planning cycle steps but also meeting the wellbeing, nurturing and safety needs of a child 0-2 years in care. And finally, a brief introduction into HOW we are going to make it happen!
How to Observe & Tools to Use
You will find out WHY recording the learning, meaningful moments and progress of a baby or toddler needs a different approach. We'll explore WHAT you can observe and HOW to use different observation formats and tools effectively.
Learning Environments, Voices & looking Forward
We finish the series with part 3 and it is in this post that you will find out how to create and support learning in Baby & Toddler environments, seek out , incorporate & use the child's voice in your planning (even when they are non verbal!) , empower and support educators working with this age group and end with some strategies for closing the planning cycle loop and taking some simple action steps to help get you moving forward!
Ready to get started on Part 1 of this series? Let's Do It Empowered Ed!
Planning & Play for 0-2 Years - Part 1 - What, Why & How.
Before we talk about creating an overall planning system and how to fit all the necessary paperwork in, let's take a minute to break down and get clear on WHAT it is we actually need to do And WHY when it comes to meeting not only the planning cycle steps but also meeting the wellbeing, nurturing and safety needs of baby.
The 5 areas I list for you below ideally should already be part of your early learning curriculum and focus if working with the 0-2 years age group. (It is with any early years age group really) but the younger ages have a larger focus on routines, wellbeing and parent communication due to their high level of physical and emotional needs.
5 Essential Focus Areas for Early Learning with 0-2 Years
Family Communication & Belonging
Indoor & Outdoor environments are safe, challenging, welcoming.
Routines are flexible according to children's specific needs day to day but children generally know what they can expect and when.
Assessment & documentation systems in place and organised to collect essential information to inform ongoing programming and save time by not doubling up or recording unnecessary information
Reflection processes that are simple but consistent and useful.
Communicating with Families and the Cycle of Information
When planning and setting future learning goals for children we want to try and include multiple sources of information that we have recorded or documented over different time periods. This then all comes together to form a clear picture using a summative assessment (or similar) at regular intervals throughout the year.
The cycle of information needs to be continuous and consistent to help you to plan effectively for both individual children as well as groups and as I mentioned earlier above family communication plays a larger role in this process – especially when planning for babies and toddlers.
Try to make it a regular part of your planning system/process to incorporate both educator observations and the family information you gain throughout the year using the consistent and meaningful family communication tools and strategies you have put in place already. All information can help you to form a more comprehensive picture of the child in your care. This is an important way you can include the child's voice in your overall program.
Now that you have a better understanding of why family communication and gaining knowledge regarding the child’s general family life is actually an important part of your programming, you might be looking for a few tips to help you make your current process a little more effective….and that doesn’t mean more complicated or time-consuming – it means using your time and tools more effectively!
Try some of the following suggestions…
7 Simple Ideas to Collaborate Meaningfully with families – and help you plan more effectively for babies and toddlers!
- Be respectful and acknowledge that parents are always the child's first teacher.
- Support a strengths-based approach with parents which basically just means that you take the time to recognise that families have strengths too - you are aiming for a partnership rather than assuming you are always the expert or must know better!
- As mentioned previously - put orientation and daily communication systems in place to learn as much as you can about baby or toddlers’ home experiences and family life/culture.
- Communicate and exchange information consistently every single day – not just when you need to know something or ‘get the chance’. If a child’s core educators cannot be present to speak with parents at either drop-off or pick up times then put clear communication processes in place so that other educators know how to effectively communicate information about the child’s day. Use simple communication books if you have a large team of educators doing different shifts.
- Make it quick and easy for parents and carers to communicate with you! Use easy to read, visual formats, ensure parents who are unable to pick up or drop off also have access to information about their child’s day via the cloud or email systems, use surveys but keep them brief - no one wants to write paragraphs of information just to check off your boxes!
- Explore ways you can communicate more effectively with your ESL Families.
- Put in place a child orientation process that includes opportunities for parents to share relevant information with you easily and feel confident that not only their child feels a sense of belonging and trust but this also extends to the family as a whole.
So now we want to take that ongoing cycle of information we have gathered using our regular communication tools, what we already know about the development of and learning of the babies and toddlers along with the information provided by the families during the room orientation process and figure out how to incorporate that into our overall planning system so we are not doubling up, feeling overwhelmed and worst of all not meeting the child's needs and family expectations.
When simplified, the planning and documentation cycle tells us we need to do the following:
- Gather information about the child's needs, strengths, progress, well-being and development. We do this in the form of child or group observations.
- We then need to bring our various methods and sources of information together and think about what the information we have collected is telling us – This is our Analysis of Learning.
- Once we have made sense of our observations- (which just means analysing and making connections to learning outcomes and our knowledge of developmental milestones - the Analysis of Learning) we can then make a judgement or decision about how we want to move forward and create an individual plan for baby or toddler - This is our Forward Planning & Evaluation.
But what if they don't do anything for me to observe and write down?
I hear this a lot and I understand perfectly where it comes from! I have worked as a lead educator in busy baby rooms with a group of mainly under 6 months old with very high care needs. There might be a ratio of educators to children under 2 but if you have worked in a centre based early learning service you know that your 0-2 group might be made up of all mainly younger babies instead of a mix of ages so your day and routines can change quickly
according to the group dynamic!
Honestly, you just finish one round of nappy changes, bottles, snacks and changing cot sheets then you are back to the beginning of the cycle again - what do you find ‘meaningful’ enough to write an observation on…and when do you get the time to do this anyway?
This is where we need to think outside the box remember? That cycle where it feels nothing noteworthy is happening is actually providing valuable opportunities for reflection, communication, observation and ideas for next week's plan!
Although slightly different for family daycare educators who might only have 1-2 children under 2 years each day in a mixed age care environment the group dynamics can change quickly when you have to meet the unique and often demanding needs of infants and young toddlers so many of these same planning strategies and tips apply. They still require a different approach to plan effectively.
However, before you start shaking your head at me (I see you there!), this doesn't actually have to mean adding work to what you currently already do with the older children. It just means collecting your information in different ways more suited to a baby's daily routine and care needs.
“That daily cycle & routine where it feels nothing noteworthy is happening is actually providing valuable opportunities for reflection, communication, observation and ideas for next week's plan!.”
- The Empowered Educator -
What can Educators look for when documenting an observation?
The trick to simplifying observations for baby and toddler is not to overthink the moments you choose to record. Narrow your focus and see the importance in the smaller everyday actions, moments and everyday routines. Compare to the knowledge you already have of the child.
“The trick to simplifying observations for baby and toddler is not to overthink the moments you choose to record..”
- The Empowered Educator -
5 Easy Steps to Simplify Baby & Toddler Documentation & Assessment
“There is no set number of observations you are required to do - this is about recording, assessing and extending the ongoing progress of a child's individual learning and discovery journey...record those observations not because you have to, but because they stood out to you as important in the child’s learning journey.”
- The Empowered Educator -
Although a baby's day and routine may seem mundane when it comes to choosing what to observe and record on a regular basis - try and think about what is happening in the baby's world. What is happening for them that is different or new no matter how small?
This is where your knowledge of each child's routine, progress, current interests and home culture comes in. This is why you put a little extra time into collecting this information upon orientation and during consistent and meaningful parent communication.
Spending the time to set up effective communication tools and routines based on baby's identified needs (if you don’t know where to start with setting up this system use my Baby & Toddler Planning & Communication Templates and then making it your priority to nurture and really get to know them, in turn helps you to observe more meaningfully and actually analyse the useful information you have collected in a more time efficient and
I like to encourage educators not to fall into the trap of writing down observations just because they haven’t filled this month's 'quota' There is no set number of observations you are required to do - this is about recording, assessing and extending the ongoing progress of a child's individual learning and discovery journey.
Some moments may seem very simple but it doesn't mean they aren't meaningful and important in that child's life right now.
Record those observations! Not because you have to, but because they stood out to you as important or memorable in the overall snapshot of this child’s learning journey.
That's it for Part 1 in this series Empowered Ed's - awesome effort sticking with me to here! Take some time to revisit this post over the next week and reflect on the What, Why & How of Planning & Play with the 0-2 Years age group before we dive into Part 2!
If you are a subscriber to the Empowered Educator Member Hub make sure to look for the Baby & Toddler Planning & Play resources and templates mentioned throughout this post to give you a helping hand with some of the strategies I have mentioned here in Part 1 of this series (you already have access to them inside member hub - so go look now!) Don't forget you can also download one of the hundreds of activity idea guides linked to learning outcomes - especially created just for the 0-2 years age group!
Not a Hubster yet but want to save time on your planning and access regular webinars and training videos? Join us inside here!
In Part 2 of this series I will be simplifying the documentation of observations in the 0-2 Years age group. You will find out WHY recording the learning, meaningful moments and progress of a baby or toddler needs a different approach. I'll explain WHAT you can observe and HOW to use different observation formats and tools effectively.
You can do this Empowered Ed! Let me know in the comments below what you find most challenging when it comes to planning and play with babies and toddlers!