Studies of child development confirm that experiences with people mold an infant’s mind and personality. Caregiving is, therefore, central to development, whether the caregiver is a parent, a grandmother, or a teacher in a child care center.
Every day we learn more about the incredible capacities of infants. Infants react to noise, changes in lighting, and new people from the very beginning, proof that they are aware of sights, sounds, and other people in their lives. Although an infant cannot tell you in words that she is hungry or needs a diaper change, she expresses her feelings and needs through the sounds she makes, her facial expressions, and movements.
Caring for infants on a day-to-day basis presents special challenges and opportunities to promote children’s learning. Families are looking for centers where the staff ensure children’s safety and comfort while also fostering their physical, sensory, social, emotional, and intellectual development.
Early exposure to child care can foster children’s learning and enhance their lives. Good caregiving results in more and stronger connections in the infant’s brain; connections that last a lifetime. And by connecting with warm, caring adults at the start of life, infants also begin developing the ability to connect with others throughout life.
From the beginning, infants show a wide variety of physical abilities. During the first few months, they gain control of their hands and feet. Soon their movements become more coordinated and purposeful. Movement is exploration. As they roll, scoot, rock, and bounce, they discover how their bodies move and feel. They respond to rhythm, music, song, and a pleasant tone of voice.
Infants may follow objects and people with their eyes, but they do not look for objects when they are hidden from view. They have not yet developed what scientists call object permanence; that’s why a game like peekaboo is so exciting for them! With the support of a parent or other skilled caregiver, babies begin to recognize familiar objects, events, and people, then to anticipate their return.
Most of all, infants enjoy warm human contact. They know by the tone of voice whether a person is friendly, sad, or angry. In their own individual ways, they respond to the emotions of people around them. It may not be immediately apparent, but babies are forming a foundation for relationships they will develop throughout their lives.
Like parents, good teachers know that infants grow and learn best when they feel secure. This is why it is important for adults to respond consistently. Infants develop trust and security when they know their teachers will be right there to help if they are hungry, tired, or uncomfortable.
Teachers must become familiar with the eating and sleeping rhythms of the individual infants in their care. They also must stay in tune with the rapidly changing needs of each infant.
A good relationship between parents and teachers helps ease parents’ minds and helps children begin a lifelong pursuit of learning. The more families and teachers communicate, the better they can provide for the child’s changing needs.
Good teachers show respect for a child’s home language and culture and the parents’ childrearing style. When the home language of a child is different from that of a teacher, parents and teachers must work together to create an environment that is best suited for the child’s long-term development.
A high-quality child care supports an infant’s cognitive development, preparing them for higher academic achievement upon entering school. This appears to result from being provided with intellectual stimulation during the early developmental period, leading to better performance in reading, math and memory-related tasks. Infants who are in child care situations that feature the constant use of quality words may eventually develop a richer vocabulary than those who go without.
Overall, the quality of early childhood education plays a significant role in an infant’s development. Caring for an infant can be challenging, however when your infant is part of a high quality child care program, the results can be beneficial to both the child and the parents.
Things to consider when choosing a good child care environment for your infant are the group size (the maximum number of infants per teacher), the quality of the actual physical environment of the day care facility, and how the needs of each individual infant are going to be met.