In this part of the course, we focus on caregiving. Caregiving is an integral part of the curriculum for young children. Because caregiving moments happen multiple times a day for infants and toddlers, capitalising on these moments as opportunities for attuned, intersubjective engagement is a foundation for effective pedagogy. Again, we will see how the principles that underpin our work with infants and toddlers can be played out in these regular, one-to-one interactions between teachers and children.
The aims of this part of the course are:
- To reflect upon how our image of the child is reflected in our caregiving actions and attitudes
- To identify the important elements of quality caregiving practices
- To analyse a caregiving moment and make an assessment of its quality
This will involve:
- Reading about and reflecting on respectful practices with infants and toddlers
- Reading about the features of quality caregiving
- Watching a video in which two teachers from The Learning Centre, Alex Neilson and Janine Brooker, discuss their caregiving practice
- Reflecting on the key ingredients of a caregiving moment
- Practising and reflecting upon a caregiving moment with your focus child
You can also discuss how you organise caregiving practices in your setting on the online forum, and as usual there is some further reading and watching that expands some of the topics in this part a bit further.
Revisit your learning so far
What are some important ways to support infant and toddlers’ language development?
Infant and toddlers’ language development is best supported through meaningful serve and return exchanges of communication with responsive caregivers, particularly in relation to things of infants’ and toddlers’ focus and attention. Other strategies include commentating, using parentese, repetition, and of course, reading and singing.
Quality caregiving practices help us meet the principles for effective infant-toddler pedagogy. Caregiving involves all of the key activities of an effective infant and toddler teacher. It requires teachers to be fully present in the moment of caregiving, and listen for and be responsive to children’s cues and communications so that caregiving becomes a reciprocal interaction in which the teacher and child work in partnership (and with considerable intersubjectivity) to perform the act of care.
One of the key principles for quality caregiving practice is that of respect. Before we even begin to think about caregiving, by which we mean those intimate moments with children that involve their bodies and very private and essential acts of care such as feeding, falling asleep, dressing and nappy changing, we need to examine how we might show respect to infants and toddlers in the ways that we handle, touch and communicate with them, and how, perhaps unintentionally, we might sometimes use touches and gestures that communicate disrespect. The next short reading is designed to provoke your thinking about that.
Use the following reading, Developing respectful relations with infants and toddlers, to reflect on common and habitual ways of handling and responding to infants and toddlers.
Developing respectful relations with infants and toddlers
The questions below encourage you to imagine how an infant or toddler experiences rushed interactions and well-meaning actions that do not consider their perspective. Use them to reflect on what you think shows respect to infants and toddlers in ECE settings.
Consider what it would be like to be picked up without warning, or from behind. Wouldn’t you prefer to be told what was going to happen, or, even better, invited? And, if invited, given time to consider the request, and time to respond and to prepare yourself for the movement?
Consider what it would be like to be put into a highchair, or baby seat or bouncer, from which you couldn’t get out by yourself, and which restrains you. Wouldn’t you prefer to find your own places to sit or rest, and to decide for yourself how to get there?
Consider what it would be like to be placed in precarious positions, in which you feel wobbly and unsafe, and unable to support yourself. Would placing cushions around you help?
Consider what it would be like to be laid on your tummy, where your vision is curtailed and your head and neck movements uncomfortable, because someone thinks you should build your neck muscles.
Consider what it would be like to be grabbed by the hands and pulled up to exercise your legs, because someone thinks it is good for your development?
Consider what it would be like to be passed from one set of arms to another, to people you didn’t know.
Consider what it would be like to have your t-shirt removed, or to have your nose or face wiped without being told. Wouldn’t you prefer to be asked, and have time to prepare for the procedure?
Consider what it would be like to have something forcibly taken out of your hand, because it wasn’t ‘for you’. Wouldn’t you prefer to be asked to give it, and have that person wait while you process the request and begin to reply?
Consider what it would be like to have a hat placed on your head as you venture outside. Wouldn’t you prefer to be asked?
Consider what it would be like to be taken to bed, even when you weren’t tired. How would you like to be made to stay up when you were?
Consider what it would be like to be hungry but have to wait until a set time for something to eat, or to be made to eat when you weren’t hungry.
Consider what it would be like to be ignored when you were communicating with someone, or if you were experiencing strong emotions.
Consider what it would be like to have to follow a request immediately. Wouldn’t you prefer to be able to finish what you were working on?
Consider what it would be like to be talked about, as if you couldn’t understand the conversation. Wouldn’t you prefer to be made to feel part of the conversation and given a chance to contribute?
What other practices in your centre, or in wider society, do you think are (unintentionally) belittling or disempowering for infants and toddlers? Have you ever noted a practice for interacting with or handling infants and toddlers that has made you feel uncomfortable? You might like to consider particular items of baby equipment such as certain sleep aids, baby seats or toys, or the way that you have observed other people respond to babies.
Many ideas about respectful practice involve thinking more carefully about the ways in which we touch children’s bodies. How often, across wider society, are infants scooped up and moved out of the way without the adults performing these movements asking permission? How often do adults presume to be able to freely touch and cuddle babies without asking the infant? And how often are highchairs or baby seats used as a way of restraining an infant for the convenience of the adult rather than the needs of the child? It is important to be aware of, and start to question, habitual practices that may not be totally aligned with the image of the infant or toddler you are aiming for as the foundation of your practice and pedagogy.
The principle of ‘free movement’ as a respectful and developmentally appropriate activity for infants and toddlers includes ideas about not restraining children or putting them into positions they cannot access for themselves (such as a moulded baby seat to sit them up before they are able to sit independently). While the principle of free movement is underpinned by notions of respect for young children’s independent motor development, it is important to remember that, in another cultural context, showing respect to an infant or toddler may involve placing them into positions so that they can participate fully in cultural activities. We will look more closely at supporting children’s movement in Part 6 of the course, and at cultural diversity in infant and toddler practices in Part 7.
In relation to our focus on caregiving in this part of the course, what is important is that caregiving activities are carried out in ways that are respectful of infants and toddlers as competent human beings who have the right to a say in their own care. This means that it is respectful to talk to an infant or toddler about what you are going to do before you do it. It is respectful to offer them an opportunity to participate in their own care and to make choices about what happens to them. And of course, it is respectful to touch children gently and considerately.
As we know, infants and toddlers should be seenas competent and capable learners and communicators, able to make valued contributions. This applies completely to children’s caregiving needs. Even the youngest infant can communicate needs, and their agency supported and developed. Infants and toddlers should be enabled to be active participants in their experiences, and not just passive recipients of care.
The next reading explores acts of respectful and responsive caregiving a bit more deeply. It offers eight important features of quality caregiving, beginning with the importance of the key teacher or primary caregiving relationship as the context in which quality caregiving practices can be developed in an individualised way for each child.
Read Eight features of quality caregiving for infants and toddlers.
Eight features of quality caregiving for infants and toddlers
Caregiving is an important part of pedagogical work for teachers of infants and toddlers. It is not just a set of tasks that must be completed for the child’s wellbeing. Neuroscience has demonstrated that, especially in early life, development of the brain and the body are closely interrelated. This means that physical care is an integral part of, and stimulates, infants’ and toddlers’ learning and development. The nurturing involved in moments of care such as mealtimes, nappy-changing and going to sleep, offer a meaningful context for developing attuned interactions which are an essential component of infant and toddler pedagogy. Small group sizes, a high ratio of adults to children (ideally 1:3) and low staff turnover all help to enable better quality caregiving practices. Research into quality caregiving for infants and toddlers has identified the following eight features.
Key teaching, also called primary caregiving, where a teacher takes primary responsibility for a child’s care, is essential for supporting attuned caregiving in which the caregiver is aware of and responsive to the child. This helps infants and toddlers build attachment and a sense of security. The intimate caregiving relationships established through key teaching build vital trust and reassurance for infants. Key teachers can support children through transition into the centre, daily separations and reunions with parents and whānau, and other moments of transition such as going to sleep or mealtimes. Key teachers also introduce the child to a widening range of relationships.
Key teaching contributes to strong relationships as it facilitates a multitude of interactions that allow the teacher and the infant or toddler to get to know each other. Children’s needs for nutrition, sleep, activity and comfort can then be met in individualised ways that further build their competence and strengthen the connections between caregivers and children. In a key teaching system, the child and family are often assigned a caregiver before they start at the early childhood setting, but it might sometimes be worth considering the personalities of children and teachers to see what the best match may be, or even allowing a bit of time for infants and toddlers to show a preference for a particular teacher. A good match is important for effective relationship-building. No child or parent should be forced into a relationship with a key teacher, so ECE providers need to create opportunities for parents to voice concerns or questions, and be open to making modifications that are mutually agreeable.
Some settings may prefer to use a whānau caregiving approach, which entails a more collective approach to caregiving in which a child is cared for by multiple caregivers. A key teacher in this approach may have responsibility for an infant or toddler’s transition, and maintaining communication with the family, but this relationship would quickly facilitate relationships with other adults over time.
Continuity of caregiver
Continuity of care means that children remain with the same caregivers for more than a year, and ideally up until the child is three years old, giving children and teachers time to get to know each other. A lack of continuity can have negative impacts on children’s learning and development as repeated detaching and re-attaching to new caregivers is emotionally stressful for infants and toddlers.
Many practices can support continuity of care. For example, you might consider building ‘family groups’ of children and two or three teachers which remain together in a small group for large parts of the day, and which also remain constant over a prolonged period of time. Planning multi-age groups with each teacher means that children need not transfer caregiver when they reach a birthday. Another alternative is allowing ‘looping’, where same age groupings move on to a new physical space with a familiar caregiver until they leave the setting, at which point the caregiver takes on a new group.
Of course, it is likely to be impossible to have the same caregiver present at every moment of a child’s time at the setting due to shift times, leave and other absences. Strategies to overcome these difficulties include identifying other teachers to build a relationship with and knowledge of the child, and making sure that, if a teacher leaves, there is overlap between the familiar teacher and a new one. When new caregivers need to step in to cover, this should be explained to the child. It is important to ensure a consistency of practice across caregivers: while it does not replace the security of a key teacher, it helps children know what to expect from each adult in your setting. For example, if one caregiver always gives children a few minutes notice before coming back to change their nappies, another caregiver who was caring for children in his or her place would also give children the advance notice they are used to.
Effective settling processes
It is important to have parents involved in the transition to ECE and the settling process. Ensuring the child’s emotional security in the new setting should be seen as a joint task between the parent and the caregiver. Try to have only one child settling in at a time, because the presence of the parents during this new child’s visits can be unsettling for the other children. A settling process might look like this:
- A short first visit so that feeding or changing will not be necessary, with the parent present the whole time. The parent and child explore the setting and ensure the child has a positive experience.
- A second visit in which the key teacher starts to interact more closely with both the parent and child, so that the child becomes aware of their presence. On this and subsequent visits, the amount of time that the parent and child spend in the setting each day might increase. When the parent and teacher agree the child is ready, the parent can start leaving the child; over the following visits, the length of time that the child is left without the parent can be increased.
- The key teacher might ask the parent to carry out the first nappy change while they observe, in order to plan a nappy change routine for that child based on what they are used to with their parent. This practice might be repeated, observing the parent’s routine for mealtimes and sleep times.
Adapting to the child
Teachers should take time to find out how a child prefers to be fed, how they like to fall asleep and how they react to loud noises or different kinds of touch. This means adapting practices to the child, rather than expecting the child to meet teachers’ expectations or to adapt to the setting’s fixed routines. A flexible programme supports individualised care, as it enables teachers to follow the child instead of a roster. The aim is for infants and toddlers to develop a sense of security that comes from knowing what to expect of their world, both at home and in the early childhood setting.
Caring involves genuine attentiveness. For example, this means watching attentively for cues that the infant is ready for the next mouthful during feeding. This gives the child a role in the feeding process and demonstrates that their every communication is meaningful and listened to. Every interaction provides an opportunity to interact in a caring way, which offers children guidance but also freedom to learn and develop. The gentle and considerate handling of and interaction with an infant or toddler affects their developing self-concept as someone worthy of respect and consideration.
Care is not effective when the independence of either the child or the caregiver is reduced. Both teacher and child need to be heard by each other and feel able to express wishes, preferences and dislikes. Caregiving is not about meeting children’s needs at whatever cost. Not all needs must be met: sometimes there are other priorities or children’s demands are unreasonable or unsafe. At times, not complying with children’s requests might provide opportunities to build resilience, self-control and tolerance.
There are multiple learning opportunities present within caregiving routines and the flow of everyday experience. When teachers and infants and toddlers are both focused on the same activity of care, it allows for the development of the shared meanings necessary for attuned caregiving. Within attuned interactions, teachers can regulate and influence infants’ and toddlers’ attention and build their interest, awareness and understanding. There are opportunities for co-operative action, where the infant or toddler contributes to particular tasks during a nappy change, or during feeding, where both parties must synchronise their movements. These are also rich contexts for language development and conversation.
Widening the range of relationships with others
The safety and security promoted by a predictable relationship with a permanent caregiver ensures that the child is supported to develop relationships with other caregivers and children in the setting. This enables the child to engage in, and learn from, a wider range of interactions.
As you can see, a lot of the guidance here for quality caregiving aligns with the key principles of infant and toddler pedagogy. However, the ideas presented help expand our understanding of the kind of relationships that are required in the infant and toddler context, and how these relationships might be structured by practices such as key teaching and processes for settling-in and continuity.
Watch a video
Watch Alex Neilson and Janine Brooker, teachers from The Learning Centre in Ponsonby, Auckland, talk about their caregiving practices. Their discussion of what is important for quality caregiving focuses on building strong, responsive and intimate relationships with children, and exemplifies the ideas of respect and partnership that we have already discussed.
Introducing Alex and Janine:
Janine has been a kaiako for infants and toddlers as well as young children. She values the opportunity to be a part of continuity of care at The Learning Centre so she can move with her cohort of children as they grow and develop. She currently works in the Tui space with 3 to 5 year olds as she is halfway through her second cycle of continuity. She appreciates the way that cycles of continuity enable kaiako to work together with children and their families to learn about each other and build and strengthen key relationships.
Alex has been in early childhood education since she was 17 years old. She is deeply passionate about the RIE philosophy and says she has had the great pleasure of working for the past four years at The Learning Centre which is a RIE inspired centre. Alex expresses warmth and respect in her relationships with infants and toddlers.
Alex and Janine talk about caregiving in their centre as ‘beautiful moments’, special times that are beautiful for the teacher as well as for the child. They see caregiving moments as ‘our time’: intimate, joyful moments that both teachers and children look forward to, a time for deep connection.
Alex and Janine also share that a caregiving moment is a time for learning about the child, particularly learning their cues. This means that caregiving is not just simply a chore to get through, but a time of important work for the teacher, as they try to ascertain what and how the child is communicating and what their particular cues are. This is the knowledge and skill a teacher needs in order to develop the kind of attuned, intersubjective interaction that we identified as so important in Part 1 of the course. One of the reasons that stability in caregivers for children is important is due to the time and effort it takes to learn about children’s individual cues, which are all very different and often very subtle. Having very dedicated, one-on-one time for caregiving tasks, several times each day, enables teachers to really get to know children, and likewise children to get to know and understand what teachers do for and with them.
The teachers at The Learning Centre find that having multiple times each day to ‘check-in’ with children helps them to be able to support children more fully. They might notice something about a child’s needs or mood that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. Caregiving offers a wealth of opportunities not just for meeting care needs, but also for meeting emotional needs, enhancing children’s emotional wellbeing and sense of connection, and ensuring that every child is seen, heard and responded to.
Caregiving also presents opportunities for teachers to support children’s learning. Alex and Janine introduce the idea of the caregiving moment as a time to assess and extend learning. They give many examples in the video of opportunities for children to learn different skills during the caregiving moment, and they also talk about the way they spend time looking for and noticing the child’s signs of readiness for moving on to a new skill. This underlines again how the caregiving moment is not simply a chore or task, but a time for teachers’ pedagogical work. It is also interesting to note the way Alex and Janine talk about how skills learnt in caregiving exchanges (such as holding a glass) are extended to the play context (pouring in the water tray) and vice versa.
Alex and Janine draw attention to another part of their work together as a team, which is the idea of a sense of consistency in their practice. This means that children experience ritual and repetition, and they feel secure in knowing what to expect. It also means that, whichever teacher supports them in a caregiving moment, they can be confident about aspects of the routine and how they will be handled.
Finally, notice how important this understanding of caregiving as a joyful moment of deep connection is for developing a team approach to caregiving in which each teacher is highly supported in their one-to-one caregiving interactions. In busy centres, a shared understanding of the crucial importance of teachers being able to give children significant one-to-one time enables teachers to work together to make this happen for every child so that every child can thrive. This teamwork means teachers taking on extra responsibilities while one teacher is with a child for a caregiving moment. There are also practical requirements like the ongoing organisation that happens behind the scenes so that each caregiving moment can run smoothly – and with a focus on the child rather than on finding a bib or wiping down a surface. We will look more closely at teamwork in the final part of the course, as this is a crucial element in any infant and toddler programme that enables attuned and respectful caregiving.
Alex makes an interesting point about the ‘fundamentals’ of a caregiving moment that are the same for every child. What do you think these are?
Relate your learning to practice
In this part of the course, we focus on the quality of your caregiving moments with your focus child. Choose a caregiving moment and have your critical friend either observe or video the moment. You might choose to focus on a particular aspect of the interaction: for example, you might focus on a quality such as attentive responsiveness or partnership, or on how you might use the caregiving moment as a learning moment. Answer the following questions in a reflective conversation with your critical friend:
- What cues did you notice? Were there things you missed? (Video can often reveal these!) How responsive were you?
- How effective were you in gaining the child’s cooperation? In what ways did you empower the child with agency in their own care?
- What could you have done differently?
Repeat this exercise with the same child later in the week, using your reflective discussion with your critical friend as a source of professional learning. Are you able to improve the quality of your caregiving interaction, and in what ways?
- Respect is a key value for caregiving experiences that centre on children’s bodies and needs.
- Key features of effective caregiving practice are key teaching relationships and continuity of caregivers (along with a gradual widening of relationships with others), and interactions that involve teachers in attentive responsiveness, adapting to the child, and seeking ways to partner with the child as an active participant.
- Caregiving experiences also provide valuable learning experiences for infants and toddlers.
Share the system for caregiving that you use in your centre. How effective do you think it is at developing strong, attuned relationships?
Watch this webinar on how to support infants’ and toddlers’ transitions into early childhood settings, or read a summary of key highlights here. More information can also be found at www.earlytransitions.com.