Professional Development


Great Ideas for Good Play - Computerized Instructional Curriculum

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For Students of Infant/Toddler and Early Childhood Education

By Susan H. Turben, Ph.D.

Rationale for computer, video, and print curriculum

Twenty years of infant research have radically altered the instructional methods and activities with which we teach infant and early childhood education at the entry college level. Preschool educators are now in the business of teaching early intervention, as well as early education, and early childhood education students are now routinely exposed to courses that begin with prenatal and infant development and extend to the older school-age child.

Students now study family life and home-based as well as classroom-based methods of teaching. A “family” developmental focus is becoming the accepted educational model. Parent-child relationships, as well as family life styles and eco-environmental systems, are important aspects of the topical knowledge early childhood students are expected to learn. Secular trends in infancy, such as infant mental health traits and infant competencies, have also impacted early childhood education. Drugs, alcohol, poverty, abuse and neglect and other forms of internal and external deprivation have become topically, as well as developmentally vital to the teaching of early childhood professionals. The child and his family now must be studied together as we approach the 1990’s.

“Modern” early childhood students will need to be trained to understand all aspects of the developing child, in the context of home and family. As a result, they will acquire a more comprehensive lifespan view of children. Student expectations of individual children will therefore be enhanced and better attitudes toward all children regardless of background are likely to develop. In addition, more broadly educated students who study growth and development comprehensively have been shown to have more empathy and positive regard for children with developmental problems. Knowledge of a broad range of developmental milestones equip students to understand that most children can achieve social, intellectual and language skills within normal developmental time periods and at acceptable normal rates. The modern student needs modern tools with which to gain this comprehensive-developmental knowledge.

The Great Ideas – Good Play computerized curriculum provides stimulating interactive guidance for teachers and students who work with infants, toddler, and younger-age preschoolers. The techniques presented in this computer curriculum reflect optimism and confidence in the diversity and flexibility of individual children. Students are more able to learn developmental principles as well as developmental milestones when normal growth and development is presented in a way that immediately gives them ideas about “what to do” with an individual child. The reality is that students need to feel comfortable with what children do at every age. “What children do” and “what is good for children” are demonstrated in both computer and video form.

The Great Ideas – Good Play computerized curriculum allows the student to call up limitless alternatives and possibilities associated with stages and ages of development, as well as the major domains of learning. The curriculum lists what objects are appropriate play toys at what ages, and assigns specific activities and techniques to match different stages of development. Students can select and print out teaching tasks to match temperamental as well as learning styles. For example, a student may call up all fine motor skills associated with 7-9 month-olds and obtain a list of 20 activities  that enhance hand-to-hand transfer of objects.

The computerized curriculum has the capability to select one or more developmental dimensions: age, domains, tasks, activities, toys, play objects, materials found in the house, even therapies associated with enhancing stages of growth and development. As the student tells the computer about a child, a learning profile is created, which can serve as a training or teaching guide in the preparation of lesson plans, classroom observations, or a variety of other instructional methods. The computer curriculum gives the student prompts and reminders of what children do, and increases the probability that developmental characteristics will be recalled, since the computer does not mind repetition the way human beings do.

The Great Ideas – Good Play computerized curriculum also includes observational video segments (10-15 minutes each) depicting a variety of infant/toddler and early childhood areas of curricular interest. These can be used by instructors to teach and by students to learn how to become better observers of children. Observational video segments will be both topical and developmental. Topics such as separation, dependency needs, attachment, object manipulation, toilet training, discipline, etc. will be isolated on video for study. Developmental characteristics of ages and stages will also be featured.

Through video segments, students have access to “instant” field experiences, and can watch and observe over and over again specific situations which they might encounter in their early childhood training. The student can then study options and choose the most appropriate techniques and methods of handling infants and young children. Observational video, combined with computerized developmental  knowledge, will allow the student to explore educational questions such as: how does each unique child behave and function? What does an individual child “need” in order to develop optimally?

Young children are not miniature adults. They are concrete thinkers and observers, and unlike adults who think unidimentionally (and do one thing at a time), infants and young children can be observed mixing and matching sensory information across several senses simultaneously. Since the acquisition of memory and thinking skills in infancy and childhood appears to be very different than adults, it is hard to imagine a more important facet of infant and early childhood education to then study observational skills related to observing and describing growth and development.

The sheer number of infant competencies that have been researched in recent times dictates that college level students be given access to a combination of interactive and observational teaching methods. Since cognitive, motor, manipulative, social and language skills show to be interactive abilities, the modern 1990’s way to teach early childhood organizational and developmental principles will be to focus on the simultaneous yet independent aspects of development, and to translate that knowledge into “best practices” and curricular excellence.

A very important feature of a combined computer—video developmental curriculum is that children can be observed in their homes and other external environments. Children’s actions and reactions in familiar and novel settings can be studied and “replayed.” For example, at 19 months, Jennifer locates small plastic and metal pieces, picks them up, and puts them into several containers. Students will watch, perhaps several times  the toddler is more intent upon arranging the several containers, looking inside, and playing with the containers, than she is interested in the pieces. Jennifer’s home environment can also be studied, as well as her interactions with family members.

A successive video segment shows Jennifer at 22 months of age demonstrating very different skills. The number of containers of interest is reduced and she plays much longer with fewer objects. Her dependence on adults decreases. This developmental progression indicates an increase in the complexity of play, and demonstrates higher level representational thinking. These inter-related developmental skills in young children require inter-related instructional methods.

The Great Ideas-Good Play curriculum also includes a Great Ideas – Good Playbook. It is the print supplement, complete with workbook section, that contains the technique and methodological training necessary to reinforce the use of the video and computer packages. It is the written version that describes both “state of the art” technologies how children learn and the current technologies of how teaching is most effectively accomplished. The Great Ideas – Good Playbook shows teachers and students with words and pictures how learning tasks and skills develop in infants, toddlers and younger-age preschoolers. The print material gives students the techniques that are technically appropriate for each age and domain of development, and opportunity to record and practice skills acquired through the use of the computer and video segments.

A broad-range of tasks, activities, materials, and settings are pictured, as well as described. Ten chapters of Great Ideas will be devoted to:

  1. Techniques for mobilizing play by modeling, prompting and rehearsing activities with children at different ages and stages

  2. Construction auditory and visual as well as play environments for children.

  3. Developing cooperative behaviors in toddlers at home and in groups.

  4. Positioning children for self-controlled and self-teaching, arranging space.

  5. Socio-cognitive aspects of play: first, second, and third years.

  6. Communication play: first, second, and third years.

  7. Sensory-motor developmental patterns in infancy and toddlerhood: mobility and manipulation in first, second, and third years.

  8. Motivation and intentionality in first, second, and third years.

  9. Summary of age characteristics: 0-40 months and objects recorded pictorially.

  10. Daily log and observation sheets, worksheets.

The first four chapters are behavioral and technique-oriented. The next four are geared to domains of development. The remaining two provide practice and feedback for students.

The Great Ideas-Good Playbook stresses the importance of home visitation, home teaching, parent involvement and parents-as-teachers. In addition to classroom teaching. Variation among home climates is shown in words and pictures. The home is illustrated as the ideal place for nurturing the learning process. Rooms in the home are detailed for how to use household objects for learning. Modeling by an adult is reinforced as one means by which social and cognitive skills are accentuated at the preschool age level. Social contact in the classroom as well as the home setting will be the central focus of teaching students how to maximize learning in the early years.

The Great Ideas-Good Playbook will stress students understanding of play, both social and intellectual, as part of the contextual life of the infant in the home environment. Research on the environmental climate of the home shows the significant effect of home on the development of children under three yeas of age. A range of home factors affecting the outcome of play activities are integrated into the curriculum arrangement of furniture, familiarity with the layout of rooms in a house, floor freedom, light air, temperature, all may be important to the toddler, as they structure play experiences.

“Rooms in the House” is another pictorial feature of the Playbook. Where does learning occur? In the bathroom? In the yard? On the bus? Students will learn to locate and stabilize key characteristics associated with many different environments in order to facilitate learning in the early years: (1) stationary status of objects; (2) (descriptions of) directionality; (3) stability of settings. For example, if a toddler can learn the concept of containment, by having a stable access to specific containers chosen for their shape and sounds, he may more quickly learn to make mental “maps" or mental images of boundaries, including large and small spaces, and limitations on the environment, such as doors and windows.

Each chapter details specific methodological differences between teaching toddlers and young-age preschoolers. For example,. The two-at-a-time method of presenting objects to infants and toddlers is compared and contrasted to table task- type presentation of objects to older children.

The acquisition of language and its impact on each domain of learning will be featured in each chapter. As preverbal toddlers name objects, “label” them, and imitate adult “talk”, students will study video samples of language as communication, as well emergent and receptive aspects of language development from 0-40 months.

Motivation and intentionality in infants, toddlers and young children will be examined as the concluding developmental chapter. Toddlers and young children are skillful activators of their own development. They may even overestimate their own capacities. For example, a 16 month-old staggers upon a table and opens a cupboard door, knocking her head, and falling. There is a negative aspect to early development which needs to be addressed as well as oppositional and self-related activity. The toddler’s search for independence and ability to separate from adults for biref periods is often misunderstood by caregivers. Students will be taught and tested as to reasonable expectations for children of each age.

The Good Play Curriculum

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