When it comes to helping young children reach their fullest potential, Bambi Rosario-Wyatt does just that. Serving as a certified Early Invention Specialist, Bambi supports families and helps enhance the development of the children she works with by providing specialized services.
Recently I had a chance to connect with Bambi and pick her brain on how parents and caregivers can support the healthy growth and development of children. Here’s what she had to share.
eNannySource: How important are developmental milestones? Where can parents find a quality list of them?
Bambi: Developmental milestones help parents and caregivers in understanding when and how development takes place. Knowing approximately when a child will begin to learn a new skill and how other children their age are mastering it helps to know if your child is on track with their development or if they might need some support.
There are three websites that I use when sharing information about milestones and to get answers to parent’s questions. They are: www.cdc.gov, www.kidshealth.org and www.zerotothree.org. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has great lists of milestones starting from 1 month up to 5 years of age, as well as a checklist for a parent to use to see if their child is doing what is expected for their age. Just type “developmental milestones” in their search engine and you’ll be able to click on the age you need and see what your child should be doing. You can also look at the next age range to see what comes next in your child’s development. The KidsHealth website is a great place to visit when you have questions about how your child is developing or how they are acting. The Zero to Three website is run by a non-profit organization and they publish a journal bi-monthly. They promote the mental and developmental health of infants and toddlers. They have great information, but their site isn’t as easy to navigate.
eNannySource: What should parents do if they realize their children aren’t meeting them and how can they get the help that may be needed?
Bambi: If you believe that your child isn’t meeting his/her milestones, don’t worry. Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns. If your pediatrician tells you not to worry, but you are still concerned, you can contact your local Early Intervention program for a child from birth to 3 or your local school department for children over 3.
You do not need to be referred to Early Intervention. Early Intervention is available in all 50 states because it is a mandated service by the Federal government. However, the way it is handled differs from state to state. The program should be listed in your local phone book or you can look them up on the web. You can call your local school department and discuss your concerns with the early childhood personnel. After your discussion, follow up with a written letter with your concerns and request a screening for your child.
eNannySource: I’ve heard mixed things on crawling? Is that still an important milestone?
Bambi: Crawling is an important milestone because the physical movement of crawling leads to so many other areas of development that could be effected if a child doesn’t crawl. When an infant learns to crawl they develop coordination between their upper body and lower body. They build up the strength in their upper body so that they can create breath control for talking, wrist rotation for feeding and writing and most of all they teach their brain to communicate with both sides of their body equally.
eNannySource: What can parents and caregivers do to help children reach their milestones?
Bambi: Parents and caregivers can be aware of the milestones and when children typically reach them. Play and have fun with your child. Spend time with the child reading and talking; offer a variety of stimulation such as playing outside in all kinds of weather (appropriately dressed of course); going to the grocery store (talk about what you are going to get, what things you see, etc); participate in community playgroups with children of similar ages (mixed age groups work well too); visit your local library (children begin to learn the rules if they are exposed to them early); play and enjoy your child.
eNannySource: What are the best types of activities parents can do with babies? With toddlers? With preschoolers?
Bambi: Wow, this question could be a whole column by itself. But I will try and be selective with the ones I think are most important.
My first advice for babies would be let them play on the floor. They need time on their tummy in order for motor developmental progressions to occur. But first an infant must like being put on their tummy before they are interested in crawling (usually between 6 and 9 months of age). Many people report that their infant doesn’t like being on their tummy. And that could be true, but it is so important for them to spend time there. It helps to build up their upper body strength so they can lift up and support their head. The infant works on raising their upper body and being able to move (pivoting, inching forward, crawling, creeping, etc.). So, in order to achieve this, caregivers need to encourage more and longer time on their tummy. It could be done in increments over the course of a day, 1 to 2 minutes at a time, several times during the day, trying to build up to longer periods of time. It can be laying on top of the caregiver, face-to-face so that it is combined with social time; it can be laying on the couch while someone is sitting on the floor talking to them or entertaining them with a toy; it can be laying on the bed while the caregiver lays next to them or placing a mirror so the baby can see themselves; or it could be on the floor, with toys that interest them or a person entertaining them. Read to them. It can be your magazine; read it out loud for him/her to hear. It can be the local paper, an instruction manual, anything. Use a sing song style voice and have fun.
For toddlers, let them explore. Textures are important to them as they move from mouthing everything they get their hands on to using their eyes and other senses to learn about their environment. It is okay to play with your food at the high chair. Usually once a child is finished eating they stop putting the food into their mouth and begin to explore. There could be a mess at the end, but think about all the learning that is going on. Look at books; at first just point to pictures and talk about what is going on in the picture on each page (or every couple of pages); don’t read the words (yet). You can label items, animals, people names, etc. Enjoy the time with them on your lap, sitting on the couch together, or where ever you can get them to sit. It will be a short burst of time to start, but will increase over time. As they start using more and more words you can talk about where you are going in the car, who you will be seeing, what you will do when you get there, etc. Give toddlers information: this age range is dependent upon routines. They do not understand the concept of time, but do remember orders of things. Try and give warnings when things may be different. If you have a child who has trouble with transitions (moving from one thing/activity to the next) then give warnings (5 minutes, then 2 minutes, then 1 minute). Make sure that you have their attention before giving information. If they aren’t looking at you there is a good chance that they aren’t hearing you.
For preschoolers; Play. Provide a variety of materials for children to make things from. Let their imaginations develop and mature. Find toys that increase their creative play. If all of the child’s toys talk for them, then why do they need to talk? If you have a farm and animals that makes all the noise for them, take the batteries out. Encourage narrated play. Vehicles make noises, people make noises, animals make noises, etc. A language rich environment helps vocabulary to grow and children learn how to make language work if their vocabulary is big enough. Socialization with peers is important too, but not too much structure. Let the children play and learn how to work things out for themselves. If things begin to get too out of hand, then it’s time for an adult to step in and help them work things out. Give them options and create the words that they need to use. Read with them. At this age they enjoy simple words on the pages of the books. They will choose a favorite one and you’ll be reading it over and over again. This is great. Soon they will be “reading” it to you. You can read the words and leave off the last one before turning the page and let them finish the word. Once they know the book you can begin to substitute new words and see their reaction. It will become fun for you both.
eNannySource: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Bambi: Children are fun. Enjoy them while they are little in whatever way you are able. Many families have to send their children to child care or have a care taker come to their home to care for their children. Visit several child care facilities before making a decision. Make sure to interview several people before making that final choice. It will take time, but will be worth the effort when you find the caring place or individual that fits your child’s and your needs. Being cared for by someone other than a parent isn’t a bad thing. Children develop relationships with all kinds of people and understand who their parents are from a very early age. When you are with your child just remember to enjoy him. Be silly and have fun.
And lastly, please let those babies play on the floor. There are many pieces of equipment out there now that keep a baby upright when what they really need is to be down on the floor. The walkers, ExerSaucers and jumpers are not needed and can lead to a baby developing their lower muscles more than their uppers. This is usually why they don’t like time on their tummy or skip crawling and go right to walking. If you need 10 to 15 minutes for your child to occupy themselves so you can start preparation of dinner or dry your hair, then use one to keep your child safe, but please don’t keep them in there for longer periods of time throughout the day. It does not help with their typically developing bodies. When working in the kitchen, place the infant in their high chair and give them a toy to play with instead. The suction cup toys will stay on the tray and keep them entertained and you can still watch them, talk to them and be “with” them.
Bambi Rosario-Wyatt is a certified Early Intervention Specialist in the state of Massachusetts. She has her Associates degree in Special Education: Teacher Assistant and her Bachelor’s degree in Human Development with Early Childhood certification. She has worked at Cape Cod Child Development in Early Intervention (children ages birth to 3, with developmental delays) for nearly 29 years. Bambi co-facilitates an integrated play group for children in Barnstable weekly and supports families and their children through home visiting in the mid and lower Cape areas. She is the mother of 4 grown children and grandmother to two teenagers.