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Volume 12 Number 1
©The Author(s) 2010
Introduction to the Special Section on Working with Infants and Toddlers
Issues of program quality are of paramount importance when any child is in an out-of-home setting. But no age group is more vulnerable, and more in need of good-quality environments, than infants and toddlers. This special section on infants and toddlers was not intended primarily to address questions of quality. Nonetheless, the editors have found that each article included here has something important to say, directly or indirectly, about the quality of care and programming in programs that serve children under the age of 3.
One perspective on the quality of a setting that serves young children is the “bottom up” perspective—that is, the viewpoint of the children in the setting (Katz, 1993). “What does it feel like to be a child in this environment?” is the central question one might ask as an outside observer who wishes to gain a sense of what the long-term “significant and lasting” effects of a particular program might be for the children there (Katz, 1993). While young children are unlikely to ask such questions themselves, an adult observer may learn much from inferring a child’s possible answers to questions such as the following:
- Do I usually feel that I am someone who belongs rather than just part of the crowd?
- Do I usually feel accepted, understood, and protected by the adults, rather than scolded or neglected by them?
- Am I usually addressed seriously and respectfully, rather than as someone who is "precious" or "cute"?
- Do I find most of the activities engaging, absorbing, and challenging, rather than just amusing, fun, entertaining, or exciting?
- Do I find most of the experiences interesting, rather than frivolous or boring?
- Do I find most of the activities meaningful, rather than mindless or trivial?
- Do I find most of my experiences satisfying, rather than frustrating or confusing?
- Am I usually glad to be here, rather than reluctant to come and eager to leave?
Several of the papers in this special section of ECRP provide readers with a glimpse of the answers that infants or toddlers in particular out-of-home care settings might give to those questions. George Forman’s video footage of babies and toddlers exploring objects and relationships offers a look at what can happen when adults arrange environments and activities that are intellectually engaging, meaningful, and satisfying for children who cannot yet walk or talk. In stark contrast is the classroom described by Mary McMullen, whose own experience as an observer may have closely paralleled the distress of the children in a classroom with a particular theoretical focus; the infants there seem to have experienced a confusing environment in which all activities were tightly controlled by the adults, with little attention to whether those activities would be interesting or meaningful to the babies, or respectful of their personhood. Phyllis Gloeckler and Judith Niemeyer note a high contrast between caregiver practices and attitudes in two toddler classrooms. In one room, it is easy to imagine that the children feel accepted, understood, protected, and respected. In the other, the caregiver scolds and neglects her charges and seems uninterested in helping the children feel that they belong to a classroom community.
Victoria Puig’s opinion piece, supported by her own research and an extensive literature review, can be seen as extending to the world of early intervention the conversation about what it is like to be a child in a particular setting; the reader is invited to consider the key role that home language and culture may play in the quality of early intervention efforts with children under the age of 3. Finally, a project description by longtime home child care provider Ruth Brewer invites readers to consider what it is like to be a child in a setting where the wider world outside of the classroom is a significant site for interesting, satisfying, and meaningful experiences. In that setting, families willingly bring their children on a weekend to witness a seemingly minor but long-awaited special event—the hatching of chicks in an incubator.
We hope that this special section informs ECRP readers’ own work with and their thinking about the very youngest human beings.
Katz, Lilian G. (1993). Five perspectives on quality in early childhood programs. Retrieved March 6, 2010, from http://ecap.crc.illinois.edu/eecearchive/books/fivepers.html