- 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 can help the children in your care and their families develop foundations to further their own healthy physical growth and development. High-quality early care and learning settings are better able to create opportunities for children and families to experience physically healthy approaches to learning and development by promoting and modeling physical activity and movement.
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 children and families, and you respond to their needs quickly and appropriately. Think for a moment about the physical energy it takes to care for young infants who can’t hold up their own head, or 2-year-olds who run and jump most of the day. Caring for infants and toddlers means it’s essential that you take care of yourself. This means thinking of your own movement and physical activity not just as a means to keep up with the active children in your care, but as a way to explore your own environment and feel confident and secure in yourself and the world around you.
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. This answer will be different for each of us, as our approaches to physical activity are personal. We know, however, that regular physical activity helps us build and maintain strong muscles and bones, lowers our risk for heart disease, and helps us maintain a healthy weight. We also know that during exercise, our body releases chemicals that can improve our mood, make us feel relaxed, and can even help us sleep better. Especially, because caring for infants and toddlers can be highly stressful, you should strive to develop and maintain a routine of regular physical activity. Unfortunately, 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 movement and physical activity will help reduce your stress levels and prevent teacher burnout.
The ways you care for your own body through movement and physical activity are very important and are a major influence on the growth and learning of a child’s early years. The quality of your relationship with infants and toddlers is directly connected to, and dependent upon, your own physical and mental well-being. Take a moment to read the attachment below, Taking Care of Ourselves, to learn about ways to care for your body and physical health, including ways to handle stress. The Social Emotional Learning for Teachers (SELF-T) course on the Focused Topics track of the Virtual Lab School is also a fantastic resource to access for additional ideas on promoting your own well-being.
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 by 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 activities, and plan for purposeful and appropriate 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 reading the handout, Physical Fitness in Infants and Toddlers below. 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
By building trusting relationships with children, you help them feel safe to explore their environment. As they explore and experiment with the different people and objects they encounter they have opportunities to develop and strengthen their skills. As infants move their arms, legs, and heads toward familiar people or toys, they improve their strength and coordination; which helps them learn to sit, crawl, pull up to stand, and eventually walk.
Through your relationship and interaction with children in your care, you are able to observe, respond, and encourage their efforts. Asking questions to families and sharing information with them from your observations also provides opportunities 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 Family Engagement 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 the experiences and opportunities that support physical growth and development in their household.
- Understanding the milestones – Infants and toddlers master developmental milestones at different ages, due to the physical, genetic, cultural and environmental differences amongst families. Keep in mind that the developmental milestones you are familiar with may not apply or be relevant to each family.
- Observing and adapting – Listen and observe how children are using their senses and motor skills to learn in your classroom. 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. 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 balanced lifestyle. Consider and try one or more of the following strategies:
|Rest||Take time to rest and get the sleep your body needs. Aim for 8 hours of sleep each night.|
|Reflect||Reflect on your role as a caregiver. Write down your strengths, responsibilities, and the fulfillment and joy your current role brings to you.|
|Eat||Food is fuel to the body – Make sure you are eating regularly and maintaining a healthy diet.|
|Exercise||Try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine 4-5 days a week. Start by extending and incorporating any additional movement into your day. Then move towards a more structured duration of time or an activity. Once you’ve established a fitness routine try to incorporate a variety of physical activities to strengthen different muscle groups and prevent exhaustion or decreased interest in your physical routine.|
|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. Practicing different forms of gratitude promotes personal well-being and strengthens relationships.|
|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. Also, building relationships with peers who are working toward common goals can help encourage and support regularity and participation with physical activity and healthy living.|
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.
Read and review the handout below, 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. Answer the questions and then share your thoughts and responses with your trainer, coach, or administrator.
Read and respond to the handout below, Taking Care of Ourselves, a booklet created by the Georgetown University Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. This booklet can help you learn about how to identify your own sources of stress and learn strategies to reduce and manage those stressors. Answer the questions and then share your thoughts and responses with your trainer, coach, or administrator.
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.