- Examine ways adult caregivers can care for their own bodies.
- Describe the development of healthy habits for infants, toddlers and their families.
- Identify approaches and strategies to encourage and support healthy physical activity and development of infants, toddlers and their families.
Infants and toddlers grow and develop best in loving, stable, nurturing environments. You, as the adult caregiver, can help infants, toddlers and their families further develop their foundations for future healthy physical growth and development. In your high-quality early care and learning setting, you can create opportunities for infants and toddlers to experience physically healthy approaches to learning and development by first caring for yourself.
Caring for the Caregiver
As an infant and toddler caregiver, you do a lot! You help provide a nurturing, stable, and responsive learning environment for infants, toddlers and their families. You respond to their needs quickly and appropriately. Think about the physical energy it takes to care for infants who can’t hold up their own heads or 2-year-olds who can run and jump. Caring in this way for infants and toddlers means it’s essential that you take care of yourself too.
Within the first lesson, you had the opportunity to think about what physical development means to you. It’s important to think about what inspires us to stay physically active. The answer will be different for each of us, as the approaches to our own physical activity is personal. We know, however, that regular physical activity is good for the heart and that it can help build strong muscles and maintain a healthy weight. We also know it spurs the release of endorphins (chemicals that promote happiness) and can help us sleep better. Especially because caring for infants and toddlers can be highly stressful, you should strive to maintain regular physical activity. Teaching is a profession with high rates of burnout. Meeting the needs of infants and toddlers requires caregivers to be both physically and mentally healthy. Making time for physical activity will reduce your stress levels and help prevent burnout.
The ways in which you care for your own body and physical development are very important, as the caregiving relationship is a major influence on the learning and growth that takes place during children’s early years. The quality of the relationship you have with infants and toddlers is directly connected to and dependent upon your physical and mental well-being. Take a moment to read the attachment, Taking Care of Ourselves, to learn about ways to care for your body and physical health, including ways to handle stress.
Healthy Active Living for Infants, Toddlers, and Their Families
Children who are physically active during their early years and remain active throughout childhood are likely to experience many positive benefits to their physical health and development, such as building strength, flexibility and endurance, and developing and maintaining healthy bones (Ganley & Sherman, 2000). Being physically active supports other areas of growth and development, too, including emotional health, including reducing feelings of anxiety and depression (Ganley & Sherman, 2000).
Children who have active parents and family members who participate in regular physical activities with them are more likely to be active throughout life (President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport). Adults lay a foundation for lifelong physical health and development when they show enjoyment in physical activity, encourage young children to explore the world around them, engage in child-directed activity, and plan for purposeful and appropriate activities and play.
Learn more about the ways in which adults play an important role in helping infants and toddlers develop physical skills and experience joy from physical activity by downloading and reading the handout, Physical Fitness in Infants and Toddlers. Intentionally creating time for the development of physical skills will help this become a regular part of a healthy lifestyle. You can also access the Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures website here: https://healthykidshealthyfuture.org/5-healthy-goals/get-kids-moving/ to get ideas about how to promote healthy eating and exercise habits for the children in your care.
Encouraging and Supporting Healthy Physical Development and Activity for Infants, Toddlers, and Their Families
Encouraging and supporting healthy physical development and activity for infants, toddlers, and their families happens through the relationships you have developed. For example, by building trusting relationships with infants and toddlers, you help them feel safe to explore and experiment throughout the environment. As they explore and experiment with the things they encounter, they have opportunities to develop and strengthen skills. As infants move their arms, legs, and heads toward familiar people, they are developing their large-motor muscles, which helps them as they begin to learn how to crawl, sit, pull themselves up, and then walk.
Through your relationship with infants and toddlers, you also have the opportunity to respond, notice, and encourage their efforts. Asking questions of families and sharing information from your observations also provides an opportunity to continue responding to each individual infant or toddler in your care. You can learn even more about building trusting relationships with families in Lesson Three of the Infant & Toddler Families course.
Encouraging and supporting infant and toddler healthy physical development includes:
- Learning from families – Take time to understand the family’s perspective and thoughts on the importance of physical development and on the experiences and opportunities that support physical growth and development.
- Understanding the milestones – Infants and toddlers reach developmental milestones at different ages, developing and mastering skills in their own way. Keep in mind that the developmental milestones you are familiar with may not apply or be relevant for each family.
- Observing and adapting – Listen to and observe how infants and toddlers use their senses and motor skills to learn. Adapt your caregiving strategies to fit their needs. “You ran so quickly to the slide. Would you like to try hopping to the slide this time?” “Those are a lot of steps to climb. I can help you by holding your hand as you walk up?”
- Reflecting on what you see and hear – Take time to reflect on your observations. Consider the experiences you offer for physical growth and development, your own comfort with movement, and your attitudes toward safety and risk taking
- Share with infants and toddlers what you notice them doing – “My goodness, Sarah, you are working so hard! Keep reaching…you are almost there…you did it! You reached and grabbed the rattle!” “You have a big smile on your face! You pulled yourself up…all by yourself and now you’re standing!”
Being physically healthy involves knowing how best to take care of yourself and striving for a balance. Consider and try one or more of the following strategies:
|Rest||Take time to rest and get the sleep your body needs each night.|
|Reflect||Reflect on all of the things you do in your role as a caregiver. Write down your responsibilities and the benefits and positive aspects in your role.|
|Eat||Food is fuel to the body – make sure you are eating regularly and maintaining a healthy diet.|
|Develop community||Think about the people in your life who have helped you grow and develop – send a thank you note letting them know how much you appreciate their support.|
|Relationships||Think about ways to spend time and build relationships with coworkers. Find time to talk and take a short walk together after a stressful day.|
|Support groups||Create a physical wellness group for caregivers and people you work with — talk about what is stressful in your work, share and practice relaxation and calming techniques.|
For additional ideas on self-care, take the Social Emotional Learning for Teachers (SELF-T) course on the Focused Topics track of the Virtual Lab School.
Download and print the handout, Considering Our Responses. Read through the scenarios and think about how you might respond in the situation and how your response affects the physical growth and development of the infant or toddler. Answer the questions and then share your thoughts and responses with a supervisor, trainer, or coach.
Download and print the handout, Taking Care of Ourselves, which is a booklet that was created by the Georgetown University Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. This booklet can help you learn about how to identify your sources of stress and learn strategies to reduce stress. Answer the questions and then share your thoughts and responses with a supervisor, trainer, or coach.
Action for Healthy Kids. (2019). Game on activity library. https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/game-on-activity-library/
Action for Healthy Kids. (2019). Tip sheets: Before and after school activities. https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/TS_Before-and-After-School-Activities_v2.pdf
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2008). Bright Futures Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children and Adolescents (3rd ed.). Elk Grove Village, IL.
American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (8th ed.). 2009.
Bower J. K, Hales D. P., Tate D. F., Rubin D. A., Benjamin S. E., Ward D. W. (2008). The childcare environment and children's physical activity. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 34(1):23-29.
Child Care Aware (2020). Health Resources and Links. Retrieved from https://www.childcareaware.org/library/
Ganley T. & Sherman C. (2000). Exercise and children's health. The Physician and Sports Medicine Journal, February.
Liddle T. L., Yorke L. (2004). Why Motor Skills Matter: Improve your child's physical development to enhance learning and self-esteem. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Nemours Children's Health System. (2020). Healthy kids, healthy future.
Retrieved from https://healthykidshealthyfuture.org/
President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport. Health benefits of physical activity during childhood and adolescents. Retrieved from http://www.fitness.gov. Accessed October 2013.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1996). Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General.