The behaviors discussed—saying no, exploring the world, learning self-help skills, and gaining a sense of possession—all have to do with issues of power and con- trol. Just as the infant came to experience a sense of power through signaling his needs and satisfying them by means of the adults around him, so does the toddler need to experience a sense of power through these typical toddler behaviors. Both are on their way to eventually becoming what Maslow called self-actualized (Maslow, 1954).

An adult can do much to facilitate this empowerment and the controls that need to go with it to keep the toddler and others safe and secure.

Set Up a Developmentally Appropriate Environment Not all families have the kind of living conditions that allow them to set up a devel- opmentally appropriate environment, but when they see the one in the early care

Check Your Understanding 3.1

and education program, they may get ideas about how to make their living situation a bit more developmentally appropriate. Not all commu- nities have outdoor spaces set up for children that are developmentally appropri- ate, either, though it seems that progress has been made from years past. Such envi- ronments provide freedom for exploration with few pro- hibitions. Think of the dif- ference between a toddler in a playroom set up for her versus spending an after- noon in shopping carts at a grocery store and a mall or an hour in her great aunt’s living room, trying to keep her hands off all the precious and fragile treasures sitting around on display. Yes, tod-

dlers need to learn that sometimes they have to sit still and also that there are some things they can’t touch. When adults understand toddlers’ need to explore and ma- nipulate objects, they can limit these lessons to a few times when it’s important and spend the rest of the time teaching them that it’s good to move about and that there are many things in the world that they can touch.

Let’s look at some of the components of effective environments for a group of toddlers. Defining the particular spaces are important. Let’s say there is a fairly large area, which is appropriate for the number of toddlers in the group. In that space, the play area should be defined and set off from kitchen facilities (if any), sleeping area, and diapering and toileting area. The eating area can be part of the play space if the toddlers eat at low tables, rather than highchairs. Those tables can serve double duty—be used for table toys between eating times. The play areas should contain low shelves with just the right number of play materials within reach. The right num- ber can be decided by the staff—enough for each child to have a choice, but not so many that picking up becomes a dreaded chore. Eliminating as much chaos as pos- sible is a good goal when thinking about arranging environments for toddlers.

During the day, the children should have a balance of soft and hard materials and spaces. They should also have a chance for some seclusion when they need it—places to crawl into and be alone or with one other child. They also need some open space to move around. Ideally the environment includes an outdoor area that the children can have access to during free play times. That may be the area where they have the most space to move about in. Play objects, those indoors and those outdoors, should provide for both fine motor exploration and manipulation. There should also be some play objects that encourage large motor experiences—moving around. Any toddlers who have special needs should be accommodated when think- ing of how to arrange the environment and what to put into it. For example, a child

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Outdoor environments set up for autonomous children provide freedom for exploration with few prohibitions

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Supporting Families with Autonomy-Seeking Youngsters 57

lacking visual capabilities will only feel safe to move around if the furniture stays in the same place, once he learns where everything is.

When toddlers spend their time in an environment that is appropriate for their age and encourages exploration, they won’t be faced with so many no’s. If they don’t have to hear the word no, they may decrease their own usage of the word. It is worth encouraging parents to think about what kind of environ- ment says “Yes!” to toddlers and then arrange things so that where toddlers spend their time affirms their developmental needs. At this stage they touch, explore, try things out, and use their bodies to learn about the world. Their natural inclination is to climb, push, poke, prod, and perform a huge vari- ety of other movements (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009; Copple, Bredekamp, & Gonzalez-Mena, 2011; Gonzalez-Mena, 2013). They need a safe place to do all this—a place where they feel empowered rather than prohibited. Often parents can see the advantages of a developmentally appropriate environment without your needing to point it out to them. For more information about creating environments for children, visit the website of Let the Children Play. It includes photographs of beautiful learning spaces in Reggio Emilia–inspired preschools.

Appreciate Play Children gain power through playing. They play with themselves, other people, and objects. Playing is a primary way that toddlers learn and what they learn grows more and more impressive as the research gets increasingly sophisticated (Gopnik, 2009; Hannford, 2005; Jones & Cooper, 2006; Kallo & Balog, 2005; Reifel & Sutterby, 2009; Walker & Gopnik 2014). A baby who discovers her hand in the first year of life (called hand regard) is playing with herself. She stares at her hand, wiggles her fingers, and turns the hand around to get a different perspective on it. Some children find their own bodies endlessly fascinating. Later this same child will take a crayon in her hand and enjoy the feeling of circling her arm round and round. She doesn’t care if the marks are on paper or on the wall, which is where they’ll be if no one is monitoring her. The marks aren’t the point of interest—the body movement is. Eventually the marks themselves become fascinating as she watches herself create them. By tod- dlerhood children who have a chance to explore objects show greater perception and knowledge of those objects and what they can do. In the past, child development re- search concluded that toddlers’ perceptual and mental abilities were less developed than the recent research shows. For example, according to Gopnik, very young chil- dren have much greater understanding of cause and effect than most people realize (Gopnik 2009, Walker & Gopnik 2014).

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