Babies and toddlers benefit most from learning environments in which caregivers and teachers engage in many conversations about things that interest children. An ideal environment for babies and toddlers is rich in print, books and reading aloud. Consider these 10 simple tips for finding or evaluating an environment that will foster your baby or toddler’s language and literacy development.
- Do the teacher and children talk together often?
Look for environments in which children and teachers talk together about new words and ideas. Environments in which teachers also listen to children and ask questions are best for language development.
- Is there a daily story time?
Being read to every day helps children learn to read and write. Find classrooms in which reading aloud and talking together about books is part of the daily routine. Great additions to read-aloud time include songs, finger plays, nursery rhymes and felt board stories.
- Are age-appropriate books available?
For babies, cloth, vinyl and board books are ideal, while toddlers like more complex board and paperback books. Books should be displayed on low shelves or in bins so that babies and toddlers can reach them easily.
- Is there a comfortable spot for reading?
Check to see if there is a cozy "book nook" with pillows or soft seating. Having a comfortable area for reading encourages children to read often.
- Is there printed material in the room and on the walls?
Seeing print around them helps children to learn about print and prepare for reading. Look for classrooms that have labeled bins of toys, children’s names on their cubbies, and a variety of letter materials, such as letter puzzles and an alphabet strip on the wall.
- Is the daily schedule posted?
Children learn best when they know the routines. Find a classroom in which teachers make routines clear to children by posting a schedule and talking about what will happen each day.
- Are there opportunities for children to write?
Babies and toddlers learn to write by having many opportunities to make marks on paper. Ideal classrooms for babies and toddlers have at the ready chunky, washable crayons and markers as well as paints and chalk, encourage "writing" each day, and display children’s work.
- Is there a wide variety of materials available to children?
Babies and toddlers explore and use all their senses to learn about the world. Ideal classrooms for children this age offer children many kinds of easily-accessible materials to explore, including blocks, shape sorters, puzzles, play dough and pretend play props.
- Do you see your child’s racial or cultural background reflected in the classroom?
All children should have the opportunity to see books with characters who look and speak like them. Make sure that your child will see evidence of his background in the classroom, either through diversity of teachers and students or through books and other materials.
- Is the link between home and school valued?
Children learn best when parents and teachers work together. Look for environments in which teachers have ways of communicating with parents regularly, such as newsletters or notes on your child’s day. Some schools even offer evening workshops or have lending libraries of parenting resources.