Monday, December 20, 2021

Newborn Educational Goals

 This article is about the educational goals I’m setting for the birth to 3 months period of my child’s life.

So, first question: why am I setting educational goals for a newborn?

Well, since long before I’ve even known I wanted to be a parent, I’ve known that if I have a child, I want to homeschool them. And if you’re homeschooling, the distinction between school-aged and before is pretty artificial. There’s no particular reason why I can’t frame my child’s early learning in similar terms to how I plan to approach homeschooling when they’re actually ready for K-12 goals. It provides good practice, too - an opportunity to learn how to do this whole “tracking curriculum goals” thing before I have to prove to the Saskatchewan government that I’m not educationally neglecting my child.

And let’s make it clear that setting these goals does not represent any intent to pressure my child, take away their fun and free time, or take away my enjoyment of just being a parent. I believe that children learn best through play and naturalistic, everyday experiences, and learn better when they’re happy, relaxed, and curious. And I have every intention of prioritizing and dropping lower-priority stuff if it’s too stressful.

I’ve even built-in guidelines for prioritizing by explicitly stating how learning these skills will benefit my child. If that benefit is minor, depends on circumstances that don’t apply to everyone, or can be achieved by other things, that’s going to be one of the first goals dropped if things get tough.

And after all, many parents track milestones. What I’m doing is basically a variation on that.

As for why I’m writing this up at 18 weeks gestation, chalk it up to impatience and overpreparing out of excitement for my child’s impending birth.

So, what goals am I setting?

Life Skills

Under Life Skills, I have several goals related to my plans to practice elimination communication.

Elimination communication is controversial, however, in doing my research, it seems like most of the nay-sayers seemed to be making inaccurate assumptions about what EC entails. A lot of them seemed to be reacting primarily to the label of “early toilet training”, on the assumption that it involves using similar strategies for younger infants as would be used for an older toddler.

I do intend on my child wearing diapers. I don’t intend to offer any rewards or punishments based on whether my child eliminates in their diaper or in a potty. What I intend to do is offer my child opportunities to use a potty if they feel like doing so.

People differ in how they feel about the sensations of urine and feces on their skin, but most people don’t enjoy it. In addition, urine and feces on skin is a potential risk factor for certain health issues such as diaper rash, and although the consequences for infants are rarely serious, they can be uncomfortable.

Plus, on a selfish level, I’d rather not have to change diapers if there’s a viable alternative. Even if EC results in changing fewer diapers, I’ll consider it a success.

And if it doesn’t, well, I can always try more conventional potty-training later on.

Here are my EC-related goals, adapted from this Standards Based Life Skills Curriculum:

  • Cooperates with being placed on toilet

  • Toilets on a scheduled time with prompt

  • Urinates in toilet

  • Voids bowels in toilet

All of these goals are useful to my child for essentially the same reason - not having urine and/or feces on skin more than necessary.

My plans for working on these goals essentially boil down to holding my child over a potty at various times - right after meals and naps, every couple hours, and whenever I feel like my child might be about to use their diaper - whenever it’s reasonably convenient to do so. I might also use a timer at some point, if I find it useful. And try not to react with any sort of emotion contingent on whether or not my child actually uses the potty, to avoid any potential negative side effects if my child isn't able to control their bowel and bladder or prefers to use their diaper.


Obviously, actual words and even complex babbling is not likely to come for quite awhile, but early pre-linguistic skills are likely to develop soon after birth. The goals listed here are drawn from the Montessori Scope and Sequence: Infant curriculum.

Here are my language-related goals:

  • Responds to loud sounds in environment. (L.H&U.1)

  • Calms or smiles in response to human voice. (L.H&U.2)

  • Recognizes voice of parent or primary care-giver. (L.H&U.3)

  • Communicates pleasure through cooing sounds. (L.S.2)

  • Indicates different needs through different cries. (L.S.3)

  • Smiles when seeing a familiar person. (L.S.4)

Responding to sounds is useful because the primary orienting response directs visual attention towards sources of sound, which are often things that are also moving and/or contain useful visual information. This helps my child gather information about the world and coordinate sight and hearing together.

In addition, tracking this has the side benefit that if my child happens to be deaf, I’m more likely to spot it early on. Early diagnosis of congenital deafness can make a big difference to language outcomes - in my case, while I intend to sign to my child either way, a diagnosis of hearing impairment will mean that improving my signing proficiency moves to top priority, as well as getting my child access to help from others.

However, this is one item that my child has already started showing progress with prenatally, so I doubt they’re deaf. I've been able to feel movement for a little over a month now, and in the past week (slightly less than 18 weeks gestation), I've noticed that a noise source (such as my phone playing Time Team) placed against my pregnant belly can be an impetus for a flurry of movement. Still, I won't mark this as mastered until I'm able to observe a clear, consistent response, which isn’t very feasible with the sounds and their movements muffled by my belly.

Calming or smiling in response to a human voice is a sign that my child is paying attention to speech, a necessary prerequisite to learning to understand speech. In addition, smiling at people is likely to get them positive attention, which presents an early opportunity for them to learn that their actions can affect other people’s behavior.

Recognizing a primary caregiver’s voice (in my child’s case, my voice or the voices of their grandma, grandpa and possibly their uncle, depending on how much he chooses to involve himself) and smiling at a familiar person means that my child is starting to know which people can be trusted to take care of them. Since they’re completely dependent on us at first, this knowledge can provide them a sense of safety in our presence, as well as encouraging them to seek us out preferentially when they need help with something.

Communicating pleasure through cooing and needs through cries means being able to tell us what they want and don’t want, what feels good or bad to them. It means that they can let us know to do things they enjoy and help them avoid or stop things that make them unhappy. Again, this is especially important given how dependent they are on us to look after them. Me identifying those distinct cues explicitly also means that I might be able to translate my child’s communication to other people, such as babysitters if we have reason to hire any.

My plans for encouraging the development of these skills include:

  • playing with a rattle or other noisy toy to elicit an orienting response

  • narrating activities my child is involved in so my child gets to listen to speech a lot

  • going for walks with them because I tend to talk to myself on walks and could readily transfer that to talking to my child

  • playing simple anticipation games where I announce that I’m about to do something fun and then do it or recite a predictable rhyme with associated fun actions

  • playing music or singing for them to see if they enjoy it

  • responding as contingently and sympathetically as I can to my child’s attempts at communication so they can tell communication works (eg feeding on demand, giving them attention when they ask and backing off if they give me overload cues, soothing when they are upset and mirroring happiness when they’re happy, etc)

  • playing peek-a-boo to give them repeated opportunities to experience mini-separation and reunion in a fun way

Physical Education

A newborn is pretty helpless, physically, but hopefully my child won’t stay that way. At this age, increasing physical strength and coordination is a major priority

These goals are also drawn from the Montessori Scope and Sequence, and split into Equilibrium and Hand Control categories.


  • Lifts head while being held. (MD.E.1)

  • Raises head while lying on stomach. (MD.E.2)

  • Masters control of the head. (MD.E.3)

  • Supports upper body with arms while lying on stomach. (MD.E.4)

  • Stretches out and kicks legs. (MD.E.5)

  • Pushes down with legs when held above a hard surface. (MD.E.6)

The goals related to head control and pushing up with arms will benefit my child immediately by enabling them to move their head out of uncomfortable positions and look around at their surroundings more easily. The leg movement goals are less immediately beneficial, but represent prerequisite skills without which my child would be unlikely to be able to walk. While walking (or indeed head control) isn’t strictly essential for a good life, it’s a pretty important skill that would make my child have a much easier time in everyday life.

My child has already started showing progress on MD.E.5, beginning around my 12 week pregnancy ultrasound. On that ultrasound, I saw them kicking their legs and waving their arms, clearly moving all four limbs. Around the same time I also started feeling movement, which has become more and more distinct over time. However, before birth, my child isn’t having to work against gravity as much to move, because they’re in a liquid medium. So I won’t consider this skill mastered until they can demonstrate this ability when surrounded by air. In addition, they didn’t have the room to fully extend their legs on ultrasound, which is my interpretation of “stretches out legs”.

The rattle can also motivate development of head control, by providing an incentive to try to look around. Tummy time is also beneficial to head control - luckily, I know that if my child gets upset about classic “facedown on a mat” tummy time, I can try various positions and distractions, like putting them facedown on my body, lying down in front of them to interact with them, putting toys in front of them, or putting something beneath them to make it easier. A mobile can also motivate deliberate head movements by being another interesting thing to try to look at.

As for the two leg goals, diaper changes or other situations where my baby is flat on their back can be a good time to observe kicking and stretching. I could also encourage a full extension of the leg by gently straightening it with my hands. The best way I can think of to practice pushing down on a hard surface is simply to hold them above such a surface and give them an opportunity to try it.

Hand Control:

  • Opens and closes hands. (MD.HC.1)

  • Brings hand to mouth, explores hand with mouth. (MD.HC.2)

  • Instinctive prehension evident in grasping adult finger or object offered. (MD.HC.3)

  • Begins to observe own hands. (MD.HC.4)

  • Swipes at objects dangling on mobile or frame. (MD.HC.5)

Most of these skills are prerequisites to more functional hand use. Opening and closing hands and instinctive grasping contribute to the development of more deliberate grasping. Observing hands is an early skill in hand-eye coordination, which will eventually allow them to use vision to guide skilled hand movements. Swiping is one of the first deliberate object interactions my child will likely manage, and is also an early expression of hand-eye coordination. And bringing hand to mouth will eventually be important for self-feeding and currently assists in gaining tactile information about objects since a newborn’s mouth is more tactilely sensitive than their hands.

Many hand movements can also serve communication functions, especially relevant since I plan on modeling ASL signs to my child. Specifically, I’ll probably do a mix of ASL, PSE and key word signing, especially if my child is hearing - hearing children often benefit from mixed sign-speech communication styles that are not nearly as useful for deaf children. Bringing hand to mouth in particular is frequently an instinctive sign of hunger in very young infants, but also vaguely resembles the ASL sign for food/eat, and I intend to respond to it by modeling that sign and offering my child nourishment, to encourage them to make that connection more readily.

In addition to modeling signs and overinterpreting hand gestures that resemble signs, I also plan to use rattles, teethers and similar toys to encourage early grasping, swiping and mouthing, and to see if I can encourage them to look at their own hands by playing with their hands using my own. Swiping can also be encouraged using some of the cat toys I already have, since those toys are already designed to elicit swiping responses from cats.

Sensory Development

There's some overlap between this category and previous ones, but I'm going to go with the Montessori definition of this category for now.

As with most of the above goals, of course, these goals come from the Montessori Scope and Sequence. At this age, the goals in this category all focus on basic visual and auditory processing skills.


  • Reacts to different sounds. (VA.A.1)

This one seems to overlap quite a bit with L.H&U.1, under language. However, I draw a distinction by deciding that L.H&U.1 refers specifically to reaction to loud sounds whereas VA.A.1 includes softer sounds, and that VA.A.1 also refers to having different responses to different sounds instead of generalized response to any sound of a certain volume.

The benefits include gaining basic information from auditory cues, such as being able to recognize familiar objects by sound.

I plan to encourage development of this skill by playing or singing music, narrating activities, reading to my child (yes, even a newborn can benefit from being read to) and trying to engage them in back and forth interaction in general.


  • Displays interest in black and white mobiles. (VA.V.1)

  • Follows moving objects with eyes. (VA.V.2)

  • Recognizes familiar objects and people. (VA.V.3)

For the first one, what exactly my child is showing visual interest in doesn’t really matter that much, but black and white images tend to be easier for a newborn to make out clearly, and looking at things helps them build visual processing skills and learn about the world.

Moving objects tend to be important to monitor. Moving things are generally things that are capable of acting upon other things, and could be dangerous or something you can interact with. People are moving things, after all, so focusing on movement draws attention to social stimuli as well.

Recognizing familiar people, as discussed with L.H&U.3 and L.S.4, is a way of determining who could potentially be trusted to help them. Learning about individual people and their characteristics makes those individuals more predictable to my child. Meanwhile, learning about familiar objects can help my child recognize the differences between different objects of the same kind. And since certain objects tend to always be in the same places, it can also help my child learn about familiar locations, too.

Mobiles are an obvious tool, specifically mentioned for VA.V.1, though I’m not going to be exactly strict about the mobiles being black and white and the black and white things my child looks at being mobiles. Simple books could also be a good source of simple black and white patterns to look at. I could potentially combine this with tummy time, as well, to motivate my child to lift their head to look.

For movement, I can move things around in their visual field for simple tracking games, and once they start getting more hand control, swiping games as well. Visual tracking is pretty much a prerequisite to swiping accurately.

For learning about individual people, interaction of any sort is obviously relevant. Mirror play could also be fun, letting them see themselves as well as see me from multiple angles at once. Familiar routines with familiar objects can help them associate those objects with those routines.

Although none of the above skills can be displayed in-utero, my child has shown an important prerequisite to all of them - response to visual stimuli. Around late November (15 weeks gestation), my pregnancy app said that my child might be able to detect light through my belly, so I suggested to my Dad that we shine a flashlight on my belly to see if my child responded. They did, strenuously, and continued to be agitated for several hours afterwards. I don’t think it was a pleasant experience for my child, and I have no intention of repeating it, but it did give me some interesting information on my child’s visual abilities. Clearly, they can at least distinguish light from dark.

So, this brings me to the end of my newborn goals writeup - two of which are already showing progress in utero. I have a bunch more goals like this for older ages in a database on my phone. Around 3 months or so after birth, I’ll reassess which goals my kid’s already met and which ones we’re still working on (I’m assuming the EC goals will probably be “still working on” goals), and look for new goals for 3-6 months old.

If my child is struggling, any 3-6 month goals that have 0-3 month skills as prerequisites (such as moving eyes towards source of sound, which requires that they respond to sound at all) will need to be postponed. Note that if there’s any room for doubt about whether a skill is strictly required for another skill, I’ll err on the side of teaching my child earlier - for example, elimination communication requires ignoring a bunch of commonly listed “prerequisites” to toileting, which are also frequently skipped for physically disabled children.

I may also seek out assessments to determine if the lack of progress on highly significant 0-3 month goals is a sign of a disability. For example, if my child is not accomplishing any of their visual goals, this could indicate visual impairment, and I’d want to have them seen by an ophthalmologist to determine if they have an eye condition. Some congenital visual impairments can be treated, for example cataracts can be surgically removed, and regardless, I can focus on providing my child more tactile and auditory cues and plan for how to adjust my teaching plans for blindness. (Including learning Braille, eventually.)

Conversely, I may find, much as I did with newborn goals displayed prenatally, that my child is already showing some of the 3-6 month goals by the age of 3 months. In that case, I might look into related 6-9 month goals and see if any of them seem feasible. For example, there’s a decent chance that “turning head towards a source of a sound” might be a feasible goal for a 3-6 month old, even though the Montessori curriculum has it for 6-12 months (which is coded in my database as both 6-9 and 9-12 months, btw).

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home