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Foundation: Social Understanding

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
The developing understanding of the responses, communication, emotional expressions, and actions of other people
8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, children have learned what to expect from familiar people, understand what to do to get another’s attention, engage in back-and-forth interactions with others, and imitate the simple actions or facial expressions of others.

At around 18 months of age, children know how to get the infant care teacher to respond in a specific way through gestures, vocalizations, and shared attention; use another’s emotional expressions to guide their own responses to unfamiliar events; and learn more complex behavior through imitation. Children also engage in more complex social interactions and have developed expectations for a greater number of familiar people.

At around 36 months of age, children can talk about their own wants and feelings and those of other people, describe familiar routines, participate in coordinated episodes of pretend play with peers, and interact with adults in more complex ways.

For example, the child may:

  • Smile when the infant care teacher pauses, to get her to continue playing peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake.

  • Squeal in anticipation of the infant care teacher’s uncovering her eyes during a game of peek-a-boo.

  • Learn simple behaviors by imitating a parent’s facial expressions, gestures, or sounds.

  • Try to get a familiar game or routine started by prompting the infant care teacher.

  • Quiet crying upon realizing that the infant care teacher is approaching.

For example, the child may:

  • Gesture toward a desired toy or food while reaching, making imperative vocal sounds, and looking toward the infant care teacher.

  • Seek reassurance from the infant care teacher when unsure about something.

  • Vary response to different infant care teachers depending on their play styles, even before they have started playing; for example, get very excited upon seeing an infant care teacher who regularly plays in an exciting, vigorous manner.

  • Engage in back-and-forth play that involves turn-taking, such as rolling a ball back and forth.

  • Look in the direction of the infant care teacher’s gesturing or pointing.

  • Learn more complex behaviors through imitation, such as watching an older child put toys together and then doing it.

For example, the child may:

  • Name own feelings or desires, explicitly contrast them with another’s, or describe why the child feels the way he does.

  • Describe what happens during the bedtime routine or another familiar everyday event.

  • Move into and out of pretend play roles, tell other children what they should do in their roles, or extend the sequence (such as by asking “Wanna drink?” after bringing a pretend hamburger to the table as a waiter).

  • Help the infant care teacher search for a missing toy.

  • Talk about what happened during a recent past experience, with the assistance of the infant care teacher.

  • Help the infant care teacher clean up at the end of the day by putting the toys in the usual places.

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Make imperative vocal sounds to attract the infant care teacher’s attention.

  • Participate in playful, face-to-face interactions with an adult, such as taking turns vocalizing.

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Follow the infant care teacher’s gaze to look at a toy.

  • Hold up or gesture toward objects in order to direct the infant care teacher’s attention to them.

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Vary play with different peers depending on their preferred play activities.

  • Imitate the behavior of peers as well as adults.

References for the Social-Emotional Development Domain

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Questions:   Early Education and Support Division | itfoundations@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Friday, May 17, 2019
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