Early childhood educators must be aware of the appropriateness of activities, toys and equipment which they introduce to children in this setting (this also applies to parents and guardians). Finding materials and equipment that fit the developmental needs of the children is necessary to facilitate their sustained interest and involvement in play. Toys that are too simple or too complex can cause children to become bored or frustrated. For example, children need to have developed certain physical capabilities before they can utilize and enjoy playground equipment. However, if playground equipment, designed for toddlers, is being used by four and five year-olds, the children may feel bored and they may appear uninterested in gross motor play. In order to experience the joys of mastery which enhance children’s feelings of self-esteem, it is necessary to provide children with a variety of activities at which they can gain competence. Early childhood educators encourage children who are attempting new skills or perfecting old ones. They help children to experience success and they participate in the child’s enjoyment of success. Early childhood educators follow the cues of children rather than insisting that they conform to their personal plan.
Early childhood educators must also take cues from children in terms of scheduling. Early childhood educators who notice that a group of children to whom they are reading are becoming restless and fidgety need to have the self-confidence to end the story, even if it is not finished, and encourage the children to move around. Early childhood educators, particularly those with a mixed age group, realize that activities which are appropriate for some of the children, may not appeal to every child and that flexibility in children’s participation is the answer to this problem.
It is important that many of the materials that children find in an early childhood setting encourage the use of their imaginations and assist them in expressing their own ideas. Open-ended materials are those that can be used in a variety of ways. Blocks, Lego, ladders and boards, paint, clay, play dough, sand, mud and water are examples of some open-ended materials. Early childhood educators must avoid the impulse to show a child how a material should be used. Part of the reason children play is for exploration. Materials and equipment are stored in such a way that children have the freedom to choose and to reach what they need. If they are to develop autonomy and independence, children must be able to choose the materials that they want to use. Storing materials in places that children can freely access is essential to the development of independence and creativity. Allowing children access to a variety of choices in materials and equipment indicates that early childhood educators trust and value the decisions made by the children and gives children the message that they are capable of choice. When choices are not available to children, it is important for early childhood educators to make that clear to them. When early childhood educators are not comfortable with the safety of a piece of equipment for the children in their setting, they can sometimes resort to rules to control the use of the equipment. If equipment is considered safe by the teaching staff and children feel free to use it, beneficial play is likely to occur. Children should feel the freedom to immerse themselves in activities without anxious adults communicating their fears and their concerns. Early childhood educators must have a firm foundation in child development in order to allow children to take developmentally appropriate risks and to encourage children in their risk-taking rather than to inhibit them.