Research tells us that every aspect of early childhood development is impacted by nurturing and caring relationships. These relationships begin during infancy when the adults and caregivers in children’s lives set the stage for learning and growing. Much of our work around caring for infants involves a focus on routines—feeding, changing diapers, and managing sleep schedules. It can be hard to step back and think about learning opportunities and implementing unique approaches for addressing each child’s needs. Sometimes the key to individualizing learning and meeting children where they are is to have a supportive classroom setup.
As we developed Buttercups Babies, our newest curriculum offering, we kept these common concerns among infant educators in mind. We created a six-step environmental assessment to guide the development of Buttercups Babies learning activities and for you to use in creating a high-quality space for infant care and learning:
Our top priority as early childhood educators is to ensure that the children in our care are safe. For infants especially, we need to be sure that small objects and choking hazards are out of reach and electrical outlets are covered. Conducting regular safety checks, measuring toys with a small parts tester, and keeping all cleaning solutions in child-proof cabinets is the first step to creating a high-quality learning environment.
2. Space to Move Freely
Abundant floor time is extremely important to infants’ development. Designate a safe area where infants can move freely and leave substantial space for beginning walkers, cruisers, and crawlers. Depending on the size of your setting, you can use low, sturdy wooden shelves to divide the room and mark off areas for movement.
3. Arrangement of Toys and Manipulatives
Arrange toys and manipulatives on low, sturdy shelves for easy access. Keep your choices simple and open-ended. Nesting toys, balls, sorting toys, stacking rings, and cradle gyms are developmentally appropriate choices. Consult the Infant/Toddler Environmental Rating Scale (ITERS) checklist for a complete list of infant materials.
4. Space for Quiet
Include a cozy, small space for one or two children to sit or lay quietly. They may want to look at books or just relax on soft, comfortable furniture or mats.
5. Natural Items
Display nature in your environment. This could be as simple as hanging a nontoxic plant or setting up a bird feeder outside an easily accessible window. Add seasonal items to sensory tables or plastic tubs set up on the floor. With supervision, older infants can handle and appreciate fir cones, pine cones, large smooth stones, smooth wood rounds, and certain seed pods.
6. Learning Centers
We tend to associate learning centers (also known as exploration stations in the FunShine curriculum) with preschool environments. However, thinking about centers for learning is a great organizing structure for your environment. Arrange your space so that sets of materials have their own areas. You may have a shelf for nesting cups and stackers, a shelf for musical toys, a shelf for soft blocks, and a shelf for stuffed animals and dolls. Another approach to learning centers for infants is to make a treasure basket for each child that includes safe everyday objects. Offer the baskets at special times and rotate the items seasonally.
As we continue to develop Buttercups Babies, we will also continue to build on our resources for infant educators. We recognize that this time in children’s development comes with its own unique challenges. Infancy is a time of rapid growth; we want to be there to guide you every step of the way. To learn more about our new Buttercups Babies infant curriculum boxes, visit funshineexpress.com/buttercups-babies.