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October 19, 2011

Curriculum for Toddlers and Infants…Why?


 Excerpts from a wonderful article found on ChildCareExchange.com.

Whenever I work with infant and toddler caregivers, I hear stories of how foolish they feel planning a curriculum for babies. Curriculum is a school word and obviously, our very youngest children don’t need to be in school settings, but rather, home-like environments. How might this home-like context reshape our idea of curriculum? Certainly there are interesting activities we can offer babies, contributing to their brain development and learning, but I believe that building relationships is our primary curriculum with infants and toddlers. In
that back and forth dance of reading cues with their caregivers, babies begin to get a sense of who they are, who they can trust, and what is valued and possible in their world. This is curriculum far more significant than the name of some song we write down in a box on a schedule.

Whether changing a diaper, offering food, or playing peek-a-boo, each ordinary exchange with a baby is helping answer fundamental questions for this stage of life:

Is the world a safe place?
Will my needs be met?
Am I a successful communicator?
How can I get my message across?
Will you accept my uncensored feelings?

I think of these issues as our curriculum themes with infants and toddlers. And though they develop rapidly in their early years,
my preference is to think of all children up to the age of three years old as babies. I say this not to demean or discount their capabilities, but rather to protect this precious time of life from too many adult agendas. Other big themes for these babies include autonomy, separation, and control.

Can I meet my own needs?
Do I have any power?
If we part, will you still be there?

Tending to these themes, rather than more superficial topical ones, can lead to a healthy identity development as babies forge and maintain strong connections with their family and caregivers, and later, others.

Considering what this all means in everyday practice, here are some of the training strategies I often use in my work with infant and toddler caregivers.

Stories Shape Our Lives

While most of us don’t have clear memories of the time we were babies, we often have stories or photos, which offer vivid impressions of what we were like as young ones. These impressions stem from the cultural, socio-economic, and emotional context of our
families, as well as the historical times and influences into which we were born. If we don’t have any stories, physical or emotional memorabilia from our early childhood, then that absence or void has helped shape our identity development as well.

For very young children in child care settings, we who spend our days with them must spot, tell, and preserve for them the stories
that unfold as part of their development and evolution with us. This should be central to our understanding of curriculum for these young ones.

Read good picture books aloud

To explore the developmental themes for babies I find picture books often more useful than textbooks. For example, On the Day I
Was Born by Deborah Chocolate (Scholastic, 1995) has illustrations and language that immediately remind us of the themes of softness, a sense of belonging, and being the center of attention and delight of everyone’s eye. How can we plan for these themes in our programs?

Another good example is Welcoming Babies by Margy Burns Knight (Tilbury House, 1994) which shows how different cultural traditions convey a sense of identity and affinity to young children. Discussing the elements in this book can enlighten our caregiving practices.

Goodnight Moon (Harper, 1947) has simple, clear pictures and text, naming familiar objects over and over again, reminding us what children need in the way of consistency and routines to feel safe and trusting.

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown (Harper, 1942) and Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse (Chronicle Books, 1991) emphasize the intense themes of trust and autonomy for toddlers: If I run away, will you come after me? If I have a big tantrum or am naughty, will you still love me? Our curriculum with infants and toddlers is to reassure them of this.

Regularly tell stories of what the babies are doing

A primary component of our curriculum for babies is to make their lives visible with stories told to them, their families, and others in our program. These can be oral or written and supplemented with photographs. In the language of school, these stories might be
called reports, portfolios, documentation, or developmental assessments. In the language of home, they are baby books. The important thing is the rich language of detail that we use, the way we show character development, and the child’s perspective, rather than adherence to our adult goals or agenda. And, if they are to be stories told back to the babies as well as to adults, the language in
some of our stories will need to be visual, simple, lyrical, and rhythmic.

When we train our minds to think about curriculum for babies as a relationship, not a school affair, a new set of possibilities
opens up. Caregivers no longer feel foolish, but delighted with what they are learning from and with these little ones.