Planning for Possibilities

Adults going through printed resources.

Planning for infants and toddlers is “planning for possibilities,” and education staff should expect the unexpected. Flexibility is key; when plans are put into action, staff should be ready to respond to children’s moment-to-moment interests and needs. As Linda Lloyd Jones notes:

“We should watch and observe our babies much more closely. What are they doing? How are they playing? What are they trying to achieve? Ask them who they are, what they need, how they can be helped. Then listen and watch for the answer…In this way the baby will truly direct his or her care. The baby will lead.”[4]

However, it is still important for staff to plan on a regular basis. Planning helps staff engage in meaningful work with each child and family and provides an overall direction for the week’s experiences, home visit, or group socialization. Programs may design their own planning forms for individual children, home visits, and groups for staff to use. The curriculum or child assessment tool may also provide planning forms. An individual planning form should help staff “connect the dots” between interpretations of child and family information and observations, individual child goals, and strategies for promoting the child’s development and learning. Some programs may take a further step and ask staff to note related program school readiness goals. For home visitors, this planning is always individualized to each child and family.

Staff in group care settings may also create simple plans for the group. The process is similar in that they review the information they have for each child — note any common interests, abilities, and needs — then decide what changes to make, any special experiences to offer, and ways to engage families.[5] However, even within group plans, staff should show how they plan to individualize care for each child. For example, a fingerplay song may meet a receptive language goal for one child, a fine motor skill goal for another child, and an adult-child interaction (social and emotional) goal for a third child.

It is also useful to review planning forms for individual children, home visits, and groups from the previous week or weeks. Depending on how each child or group of children responds, staff may or may not make changes to the current week’s plans. For example, if toddlers seem to enjoy exploring sponge shapes and containers in a tub of water, staff may decide not to change the experience. Or, staff may decide to add spoons and tongs to extend what children learn from the experience. Home visitors do this planning with parents during each home visit.

Here are additional tips to share with staff as they use ongoing child assessment information, their curriculum, and input from families to plan:

  1. Modify the goal: If the child has met the goal, plan to support her in moving toward a higher level. Since development occurs along a continuum, there is always more for a child to learn.
    If a child has not met a goal, consider a simpler version of the goal or giving the child more time to meet the goal. Remember, children develop at different rates. Even if they are developing rapidly in one domain, they may not be developing as rapidly in another. Sometimes, children regress in one domain as they progress in others. For example, a child’s expressive language skills may stop developing temporarily while he is intent on learning a new gross motor skill. 
    Support staff in having appropriate expectations and matching children’s individual goals to their developmental levels. Having resources, such as the ELOF, that show developmental progressions with age ranges can help staff know what to expect.
  2. Alter the environment: Are there things in the learning environment that can be changed? For example, for an older toddler in a home-based program who is ready for more challenges in persistence, perceptual, and fine motor skills, a home visitor might suggest parents encourage their child to use tongs to pick up small, safe objects like plastic bottle caps. Or, for a child in a classroom who uses a walker, a teacher might create more space and pathways so the child can move around the room and explore learning centers more independently. This might help the child make more progress toward her gross motor and peer interaction goals.
  3. Adjust the schedule: Do children need more time to interact with people and materials? Make sure children have unhurried time to explore and play. Are there enough daily intentional learning experiences? Do children have enough time to transition from one daily event to the next? Are transitions used as intentional opportunities to support children’s learning and development?
  4. Adjust and add teaching practices: Reflect on practices to determine what might help each child experience success. For example, a family child care provider might adjust learning experiences or verbal interactions with a child to better match his interests and motivate his learning. A home visitor might plan with a child’s parents to set up a learning experience for their child and another child during a group socialization. The home visitor can suggest ways the parents can help their child learn from watching the other child accomplish a task.
  5. Engage with parents to brainstorm and use consistent practices: Parents are important partners in individualizing care. For example, after learning about lullabies that parents sing to their child, home visitors might suggest ways parents can use lullabies to support their child’s language and self-regulation goals. Teachers and family child care providers might share simple pretend play ideas that parents could try at home to support their child’s growing ability to use objects to represent something else. Education leaders can support staff in finding time and ways to share information with families and get their input.
  6. Ask colleagues and specialists for advice: Staff are not alone in their planning efforts — and they should know who they can reach out to for questions about planning.

Planning that is based on informal observations, ongoing child assessment, curriculum, and input from families and colleagues supports staff in making changes to help each child progress toward goals. Staff decide what to do and then implement their ideas. The next sections address implementing plans and reflecting on what happens.

[4]Linda Lloyd Jones, “Relationship as Curriculum,” in Child Mental Health, Head Start Bulletin No. 73 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Head Start Bureau, 2002), 12.

[5]Berke, Kai-leé, Diane Trister Dodge, and Sherrie Rudick, A Trainer’s Guide to The Creative Curriculum for Infants, Toddlers and Twos (Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies, Inc., 2008), 60-61.