In the infant room, we strive to create a calm, nurturing, and playful environment for the children, encouraging them to explore the materials and areas of the classroom at their own pace. The physical environment changes every day, sometimes drastically and sometimes in a more subtle way. There are always spaces for different types of activities. Examples include a quiet reading corner, gross-motor area with stairs and a slide, smaller manipulatives on a low shelf, and sensory activities like water and sand play. There are also separate areas for diapering, toileting, and eating. We respond to infants’ cravings for novelty while maintaining consistency in their day-to-day activities in the classroom. The classroom itself is kept somewhat bare in terms of decoration. The furnishings are made of natural wood and the few embellishments to the room are the children’s artwork, photos of the children and their families, photos of objects of interest, and the materials.
The social environment of the infant room provides many opportunities to build relationships with caregivers, family members, and peers. Along with two head teachers and one or two graduate assistants that work in the classroom year round, our staffing includes student teachers from the Early Childhood Master’s program at Teachers College. Each semester we welcome a new group of students to learn about infants and toddlers by working in our classroom. Family members are encouraged to spend time in the classroom as much as they can and the children have the chance to build relationships with the other families. Our mixed-age classroom supports peer relationships as younger children look to older children for ideas and help and older children learn to care for younger children.
As teachers of very young children, we are involved in caregiving routines throughout the day. We simultaneously perform the roles of teacher and caregiver, building relationships through daily routines while consciously providing opportunities to facilitate development in all domains, especially in the social realm of learning to trust one another while figuring out how to be independent at the same time. Every child is assigned a key caregiver each semester who is focused on learning about that child and forming a bond. We also practice “continuity of care” when working with infants in maintaining relationships throughout the day, especially during transitions. In the classroom, we practice the “watch, wait, and wonder” approach in coordination with responsive teaching, providing the space for the children to initiate activities on their own as we observe the minute details of their development in order to discover how we might push them forward.
The infant room uses a child-led, emergent, and integrated curricular approach. Most of the materials provided and the activities introduced by the teacher are connected to the children’s developmental needs and/or interests. By observing the children, the teachers make decisions about setting up the classroom, organizing activities, or introducing new ideas based on what the children need. We also view the infants’ daily lives as a big piece of the curriculum. Through the daily routines, they are learning important socio-cultural skills like learning to work collectively and forming trusting relationships with their caregivers and peers.
We start the year with 7-10 children. Due to scheduling differences (part-time vs. full-time), we never have more than 7 infants in the room at a time. Occasionally in the Spring semester, the number of children goes up to 8. There are always 3 adults present with 7 children, one of whom is a head teacher. In the middle of the day there is overlap in staff schedules, which provides a good opportunity for one-to-one attention.
There is no set schedule in the infant room as we follow the individual needs of each child. Overall, there is time in the morning for free play, snacks, napping, and activities like art or cooking. We have an outing once a day to a local playground or our indoor play-space. The older children eat lunch together before taking a nap in the early afternoon. The late afternoon is similar to the morning but tends to include some quieter activities as the children are waking from nap and preparing to go home. Throughout the day, snacks, meals, napping, diapering, and toileting are all based on the individual child’s needs.
Rita Gold Early Childhood Center
Teachers College, Columbia University
525 West 120th Street, Box 98
New York, NY 10027
Phone (212) 678-3013