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    • Identify examples of types of learning that takes place with infants and toddlers.
    • Identify ideas for using culturally responsive practices in your classroom.
    • Apply your knowledge of culture, temperament, and learning styles when planning learning experiences.




    Your infant-toddler classroom likely serves a diverse group of children, so you must be prepared to meet a variety of needs. Child development is an important tool for understanding what children learn. What a nine-month-old infant may like to engage in is very different from what a two-year-old child may like to play with. Developmentally appropriate practice provides caregivers with structured guidance on how to support the growth and development of children along with making learning meaningful and purposeful to their abilities. Developmentally appropriate practice is an approach to teaching grounded both in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education (NAEYC, 2009). You must understand what skills are typical for children of certain ages, what is appropriate for an individual child, and what is valued by families and communities (NAEYC, 2009). You should use this knowledge to make daily decisions about the learning experiences you offer children.

    Experiences and Activities that Promote Infants' and Toddlers' Cognitive Development

    Infants and toddlers learn best through daily experiences and interactions. Consider the following ways in which these young children learn important concepts through play (Guyton, 2011). You might notice that many of these examples involve learning in more than one area. You may also notice that these examples reflect everyday experiences, which offer many opportunities for learning.

    • When a young infant interacts with a mobile by reaching for an item or visually tracking a moving item, they are learning about the important concept of cause and effect while at the same time improving their eye-hand coordination.
    • When a pre-toddler interacts with books, he or she is engaging in early literacy, while at the same time learning the names of objects or characters on book pages.
    • When a toddler uses a puppet to 'tell' a story or act out happenings in the story they are learning to use their imagination, abstract thinking, and language.

    It is important to remember that young children are natural explorers. They are hungry for information about the world around them. Children are learning how to learn. Adults can nurture this curiosity. You can help children learn how to learn. How can you help infants and toddlers achieve that? Current research says the best way is by promoting exploration and problem solving. This helps young children develop thinking skills. There is a lot you can do to help young children learn. Here is a short list of ways to support infants and toddlers in your care:

    • Model your own thinking skills. Think out loud. For example, you might say, "Hmm. I really wanted to paint this part of my picture purple, but Josie is using the purple paint. I think I'll paint this part yellow instead."
    • Find opportunities throughout the day to play "What if…?" games. Ask the children questions like, "I wonder what sound this drum will make if I bang on it?!" or "What if we run out of snack? What should we do?"
    • Give children lots of chances to explore concepts. Read books and promote literacy development during individual and group activities, sing songs about the stories you read, and encourage children to imitate story characters with sounds or movements.

    Importance of Culture, Temperament and Learning Styles

    As you have learned, your relationships with the infants and toddlers in your care are the basis for promoting their cognitive development. One of the ways you deepen those relationships is by respecting their family's culture and their individual temperament and learning style. By knowing infants and toddlers well you can intentionally create learning experiences that support cognitive development.

    Learning experiences that are culturally responsive and unbiased take into account infants' and toddlers' temperaments, and are tailored to their individual learning styles. These experiences will not only support their cognitive development but all the other developmental domains as well. Infants and toddlers bring their own set of unique characteristics to their relationship with you. They are who they are as a result of their culture, their temperament, and their individual learning styles. When you understand who they are as individuals you are better able to support their cognitive development.

    Reflecting on Culture

    Culture influences how all of us view the world and the people around us. Every time we enter the classroom, we bring our own culture in with us. This culture influences the way we think and act. Understanding our own individual culture can increase our confidence and ability to work with others around us. Culture affects every part of our life. Look at the role culture plays in your interactions with others. Think about the ways your history and values affect your teaching. Do you expect family members to attend meetings and help with the class? Do you expect children to be toilet trained at a certain age? When do you think children should feed and dress themselves? These questions can be influenced by our culture and upbringing.

    Children enter our programs with unique backgrounds and experiences. Knowing children's backgrounds and preferences is the heart of developmentally appropriate practice. You can use this information to send the message, "You belong here." By acknowledging the cultures and traditions of the children, parents, and staff in your own classroom you can make embracing culture more relevant for the infants and toddlers in your care. By doing that you also help promote a sense of belonging and community.

    Understanding the meaning of the word "culture" in the context of this lesson is important. The word has different meanings to different people. For this lesson, "culture involves the customary beliefs, values and practices people learn from their families and communities." (Dodge, Colker, & Heroman, 2006). Everyone has a culture. It influences how we communicate, how we interact, how we interpret what people do and say; it even shapes our expectations. Culture plays a large role in child rearing.

    Think about all of the interactions you have daily with each member of each family, each child, co-teachers, program staff, and your director. Each of those people has a culture. So each day, you are interacting with many people, including infants and toddlers, who have their own values, beliefs, and practices. And, you have your own culture. That is a lot to take into consideration, but you need to ensure that the experiences you plan respect the culture of each and every infant and toddler.

    Allowing negative biases to affect your duties as a teacher can negatively affect the development of the infants and toddlers you are entrusted with caring for. When promoting thinking skills, exploration, and problem solving, caregivers demonstrate bias when they have separate toys for boys and toys for girls, guidelines that boys may get dirty but girls need to stay clean, or when they offer separate activities to children, like dramatic play for girls and building with blocks for boys. These are examples of gender biases; other biases involve race, ethnicity, language, and special learning needs. Awareness of your own biases is the first step in supporting cognitive development by preventing these biases from negatively affecting the development of infants and toddlers.

    When it comes to being culturally responsive, keep the following in mind:

    • Infants and toddlers need to learn about their world and their community. Their community includes their families; you and their other caregivers and their immediate surroundings.
    • Infants are especially sensitive during their caregiving routines. For example, they may feel uncomfortable if it takes longer for you to respond to their cries as opposed to how long it takes their parent to do that, or if there are differences between the way their diapers are changed at home and how they are changed by you.
    • Support the home language by learning a few words from the child's native language to make them feel more comfortable. Young infants are going to be more interested in your voice and touch, while toddlers are also going to be interested in books and music.
    • Materials need to be positive in image. Refrain from stereotypical materials, for example persons in native dress, unless that dress is typical for the families you serve.
    • Maintain open communication with families on what materials you are providing to support their child's cognitive development.

    Infants' and toddlers' families are their first teachers, and their family's culture is integral to their development. When you offer culturally relevant experiences on a daily basis that are based on their real life experiences you are supporting their cognitive development.

    Thinking about Temperament

    Temperament describes how a child approaches and reacts to the world. In other words, it is their personal "style" (Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, 2010). While temperament does not clearly define or predict infant and toddler behavior, research has identified and described several temperament traits and children fall into a range for traits such as the following: Their activity level, their adaptability to daily routines, how they respond to new situations, how sensitive they are to what is going on around them, how quickly they adapt to changes, or how distractible or persistent they seem to be when engaging in an activity.

    These traits can be grouped into three temperament styles. These styles are:

    1. Easy or flexible: These children tend to be happy, regular in sleeping and eating habits, adaptable, calm, and not easily upset.
    2. Active or feisty: These children may be fussy, irregular in feeding and eating habits, fearful of new people and new situations, easily upset by noise and stimulation, and intense in their reactions.
    3. Slow to warm or cautious: These children may be less active or tend to be fussy, and may initially react negatively or withdraw in new situations; however, over time they may become more positive when they have repeated exposure to a new individual or situation.

    Knowing a child's personal style or temperament helps you in both your interactions and in the learning experiences that you provide. For example, when it comes to learning, a slow to warm or cautious child may learn by initially observing or watching others do something, an active or feisty child may learn better by actively engaging in an activity, and an easy or flexible child may be able to resist distractions and stay focused on an activity. When planning for experiences and activities, it is important that you modify your own way of doing things or the way you structure some of your activities as needed, to address the temperament styles of the children in your care.

    Considering Learning Styles

    Just like temperament, infants and toddlers have individual learning styles, and these styles influence how they learn. Infants for example often come to know their world through their mouth; pre-toddlers come to know the world through their hands, and toddlers many times come to know the world through their feet. Infants and toddlers are:

    • Active learners, they learn by doing, and that includes crawling, rolling, running, standing, watching, sitting, climbing, and mouthing
    • Best suited for open-ended play that encourages self-discovery
    • Sensory learners using touching, smelling, seeing, hearing, and tasting
    • Influenced by their temperament

    Recognizing individual learning styles and planning experiences that account for them supports cognitive development.

    Addressing the Needs of Diverse Learners and Families

    As you learned in Lesson 4, it is very important to develop meaningful learning experiences for all children. This includes children with special learning needs. All children need a strong developmentally appropriate curriculum, a supportive environment, and nurturing relationships with adults. For some children, though, this is not enough for them to succeed. Some children need special accommodations. As an infant and toddler caregiver, you will have to plan accommodations to help individual children.

    Infants and toddlers with Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs) have a specific plan to help them meet personal goals. Caregivers should read the IFSP to learn about the child's goals, services, and adaptations. Just as each infant and toddler is different, each IFSP is different. In general, these children will need changes or adaptations to the curricula, the classroom, and the daily activities.

    Children who speak another language and are learning English are often called English language learners (ELL) or dual language learners (DLL). Children learning English in your classroom will probably be at very different levels. Some might hear quite a bit of English in their home, while others may hear none. This means that some children might need more help than others. You can help children who are learning English by (a) including multicultural activities, (b) giving them special supports, (c) reaching out to their families, and (d) making these children feel included in all experiences and activities.

    What does it look like to help all children learn? It is characterized by flexibility and a variety of changes.

    Changes to curricula

    Think about whether your curriculum includes the right kind of goals and instruction for a child. If not, you can make some changes to how information is presented. For example, some children might need to hear certain words more times or may learn better when words are signed to them or accompanied by visuals like photographs or pictures. Children who are Dual Language Learners (DLL) may still need you to name objects or items in their native language as well as in English.

    Changes to the environment

    You might have to change the classroom to meet the needs of some children. If you have a child who uses a wheelchair, you may have to adjust the height of tables in your classroom to make sure the particular child is included in experiences and activities. A child might need changes in where he or she sits, such as a chair if the child has trouble sitting on the carpet. Other classroom changes might include Velcro adaptations to help play toys stay in place, or knobs on puzzles to ease access of pieces. Additional adaptations include using picture cues (such as photographs) or schedules as reminders, shapes taped to the floor to help children figure out where they need to be, sensory objects, or changes in the lighting or sound in the room.

    Changes during activities

    Children with special needs might find it hard to work on and finish activities that other children might do easily. If a child has trouble painting, an adult could put his or her hand over the child's to make it easier. During the day, the same child might need more help or more time with some activities and less help and less time with others. The help that you give a child probably will change over time as he or she gets better at doing an activity. Think about fading help so that the child learns to do the activity on his or her own.

    One of the best things that educators can do is actively include all children in all activities. Children with special needs or those learning English may have a hard time joining classroom activities because they may not be sure what to do. Try some of these ideas to help include all children:

    • Watch children when they are playing and make sure that children are not excluded from activities.
    • Before an activity, think about what might be hard for a child, such as stacking blocks, and be prepared to help that child complete the activity.
    • Use classroom rules as a way to teach children about including everyone.
    • Show infants and toddlers how they can include others in their play.
    • Praise children when they try to include others.

    It is important to answer a question that many educators have: Are changes and supports for one child fair to other children in the class? The issue of fairness becomes less of a worry when you think of your role to support all children. You give each infant and toddler what he or she needs when he or she needs it. Every child gets extra help and support at one time or another. As a teacher, you should know the strengths and needs of all children and know how to help each child.


    The following videos show examples of how teachers engage infants and toddlers in experiences and activities that promote their cognitive development.

    Incorporating Family Into Cognitive Supported Experiences

    Watch how family photo books are used to support cognitive development.

    Ball Play

    Watch how a teacher builds on her knowledge of child development and best practice to support cognitive development.


    When it comes to supporting culturally relevant experiences and honoring individual learning styles and temperament, do the following:

    • Get to know each family by asking questions and listening for cultural cues and plan experiences based on their preferences.
    • Display and use items from families, such as mounting family photographs within an infant's and toddler's sight and reach.
    • Provide books, pictures, dolls, and dramatic play food and clothing that honor their culture.
    • Include music for infants and toddlers to play, dance, and sing to that is familiar to them, including music that may be in their home language or played in their home setting. This may include country, jazz, and classical.
    • Respect the non-use of food items for art and sensory play.
    • Identify the temperaments of the children you serve and match your interactions and the experiences you plan to their style.
    • Allow for voluntary participation in activities, honoring the fact that not all infants and toddlers like the same things.
    • Use daily observations to better understand the learning styles of the infants and toddlers you care for in order to meet their individual needs.

    When families seek guidance on screen use, you can use the following suggestions from the  American Academy of Pediatrics and other research-based information:

    • Children younger than 18 months are encouraged to avoid screen media other than video-chatting with loved ones
    • No solo media use under age 2. Creative, unplugged playtime is best. When screens are used, parents are advised to engage with media along with their child to help communicate what they are seeing. For example, “Look, Barney is happy now. He is singing a song with friends” Or ”In English, we say ‘happy,’ in Spanish, we say ‘contento.’
    • Encourage families to turn screens and devices off when not in use. Background television and device use can decrease the quality of children's play and the amount of interaction occuring between family members. 
    • Support families in establishing bedtime routines that do not involve media and technology use. Viewing electronic devices close to bedtime can affect the quality and amount of sleep, as well as the ease of falling asleep for children. 
    • With the support of your trainer, coach or administrator, consider if and when there are appropriate ways to use technology with toddlers. This twelve-point checklist from the Fred Rogers Center can help you assess the best uses of interactive media in your program, see the Checklist for Identifying Exemplary Uses of Technology and Interactive Media for Early Learning  at




    How do you get to know and use information about the cultures, temperaments, and learning styles of infants and toddlers in your care? Why is it important to do that? Download, print, and complete the Culture, Temperament, and Learning Styles Reflective Exercise. Then share your responses with your supervisor, trainer, or coach.



    Use the resources in this section to help you learn about supporting young children's cognitive development. The two links, from Zero to Three, contain resources about experiences and activities that support infant and toddler learning and development.

    The second resource, Understanding Temperament in Infants and Toddlers, is a document from the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) that discusses temperament in infants and toddlers.

    Consider using some of the recommended ideas from these resources in your daily experiences and activities with infants and toddlers in your care.


    CultureThe attitudes, feelings, values, and behavior that characterize and inform society as a whole or any social group within it
    TemperamentA child’s personal style, the manner in which they interact, behave, and react




    Two-year-old Josie observes what her peers are doing before engaging in an activity. This may be because…


    True or False? “Culture” is the ethnicity of the family and child.


    Which of the following things can you do to ensure that all children learn in your classroom?

    References & Resources

    American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). Retrieved from

    Beyens, I., & Nathanson, A. I. (2018). Electronic Media Use and Sleep Among Preschoolers: Evidence for Time-Shifted and Less Consolidated Sleep. Health Communication, 1-8. 

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (2010). Understanding Temperament in Infants and Toddlers. Accessed from:

    Guyton, G. (2011). Using Toys to Support Infant-Toddler Learning and Development. Young Children. Retrieved from

    National Association for the Education of Young Children (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (3rd Ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    Schmidt, M. E., Pempek, T. A., Kirkorian, H. L., Lund, A. F. and Anderson, D. R. (2008). The Effects of Background Television on the Toy Play Behavior of Very Young Children. Child Development, 79(4). 

    Setliff, A. E. and Courage, M. L. (2011). Background Television and Infants’ Allocation of Their Attention During Toy Play. Infancy, 16(6).