From Kids’ First Years
Alexandria, VA – Children and teachers, as well as children and parents, interact all day long in every type of early childhood setting. While many everyday interactions with young children seem routine or insignificant, they can be transformed into powerful interactions when the adult understands how to use those moments to connect with the child and extend their learning in meaningful and culturally responsive ways.
There are three essential steps to infuse powerful interactions into daily involvements with young children:
Step #1: Be Present
Pause. Tune into yourself and the moment; consider how you might need to adjust your thoughts or behavior to engage more fully with the child.
Strategies: Take deep breaths, arrange a comfortable setting, jot down your thoughts, use your authentic voice, and do a quick body scan to relax and center your thoughts.
Step #2: Connect
To foster trust and confidence, let the child know that you see her, are interested in what he/she is doing, saying and thinking, and want to spend time with him/her.
Strategies: Stay in the moment, notice the significant things that the child is showing you, put down the phone and listen with intent, relate to each child as an individual, respect the child’s perspective, guide the child’s behavior through predictable routines, set up clear rules and set age-appropriate expectations.
Step #3: Extend Learning
Use your strong connection with the child to stretch his/her knowledge/skills/thinking or his/her language/vocabulary.
Strategies: Help children see themselves as thinkers by using the words “think” and “thinking” in your conversations, respond to the child’s curiosity by showing excitement in the child’s discovery or object of interest, offer feedback that shows you saw and heard them, engage in conversations with rich vocabulary about activities and experiences, inspire imaginative play to develop abstract thinking.
To raise awareness about the importance that powerful interactions can have on early childhood development, members of the Professional Learning Council at Kids’ First Years (KFY) created a 5-session book study series based on a new edition of the bestselling educational book, Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning, by Amy Dombro, Charlotte Stetson and Judy Jablon.
The series was designed by the team of Patty Eitemiller, M.Ed., Early Childhood Specialist Trainer/Coach with the City of Alexandria’s Department of Community & Human Services/Center for Family and Children; Susan Keightley, M.Ed., Director of Programs with The Child and Family Network; Jane Richardson, Early Childhood Coordinator for Alexandria City Public Schools; and Maria McDonald with Kids’ First Years.
Several early childhood leaders in Alexandria were trained in the initial rollout of the book study series in 2021. Since then, subsequent sessions included cohorts of family day home providers. Also, the team created a one-hour webinar to show parents how to implement strategies for powerful interactions at home.
“I love interactions because they are free, accessible, and don’t require advanced degrees in early childhood education,” said Susan Keightley. “We have some amazing childcare providers in Alexandria. With powerful interactions, they can give their very best to the children in their care. The book study sessions offered a variety of strategies on how to be more present to laugh with children, read to them, talk with them, and listen to them. Also, our materials are culturally based because we serve many ethnicities in Alexandria.”
Patty Eitemiller, who is already working on a follow-up series to discuss the book Coaching with Powerful Interactions, shared that participants learned to be more focused on observing what is interesting to children so they can better connect and interact with them. “One child care provider noted that a key takeaway was realizing that powerful interactions can occur during activities as simple as changing a diaper,” said Eitemiller. She noted that providers will receive ongoing support as they strive to integrate the concepts of powerful interactions into their classrooms and childcare settings.
Rosario Paredes Carrion, Therapy Supervisor for Early Childhood Wellness & Provider Services with the City of Alexandria’s Department of Community & Human Services/Center for Family and Children, assisted with content development and was a panelist for the webinar. She shared that powerful interactions can happen whenever the parent or caregiver can give 100 percent attention to engage and connect with a child, even if only for short periods.
“The goal is to strengthen interactions between children and their caregivers both in the home and in a childcare center,” said Paredes Carrion. “This sends a powerful message to the children that you see them, you are paying attention to them, and you love them.”
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