Curriculum for Life in Infant Toddler Centers

Learning begins at birth and early childhood educators are skilled at providing loving, developmentally appropriate curricula that nurtures children and fosters engagement with people, objects and the environment around us. Centers that provide full-time care in an educational setting are a bastion of whole-child education, focusing on relationships, brain development, physical milestones and creativity. With the Common Core pushing its way into kindergarten, introducing whole-child education to children from birth to three becomes more important than ever because it covers a fertile ground where teachers have freedom to educate the hearts, minds and souls of little people.

What are the components of a developmentally appropriate curriculum for infants and toddlers?

Relationships Are Central—Learning to love is something adults take for granted, but infants and toddlers need to have daily positive emotional experiences with many people in order to grow into healthy children and adults. When babies have secure attachments they feel safe to explore the world. Centers can provide a culture of caring that is attentive, responsive and intentional. In the best situation, children and caregivers can stay together for several years to provide continuity of care and a stable community.

Parents are Partners—Parents can and should have a tremendous impact on their child’s learning experience. And the great centers support and encourage parent involvement. Parents, after all, are knowledgeable, involved and curious and strong centers encourage them to attend center events and feel comfortable talking to administrators and teachers when needs and concerns arise. Ultimately, a center is an extension of the home; caregivers are part of the family and the family is part of the center. When the adults are comfortable and engaged, the baby feels good and is ready to learn.

Care is the Curriculum—Sleeping, eating and diapering are learning moments for very young children and caregivers embrace these times as opportunities for deepening bonds and teaching. Face-to-face contact, respectful talk, commenting on what children are doing or noticing are central components when we see care as the curriculum.

Learning Is Everywhere—Infants and toddlers learn all day everyday. The brain is growing at an astonishing rate, approaching adult size and weight by the time a child is three. All that a child sees, hears, tastes and feels contribute to development. In a great center, children’s need for stimulation and their interests are central to daily life. At these centers, teachers see learning as pervasive, immersive and above all sensory. Educators capitalize on alert times of the day by providing infants and toddlers with age appropriate, provocative experiences and communicating about them with parents. They also respect the need for quiet, self guided learning, and for rest.

The Environment Is the Third Teacher—Spaces and materials provide a learning context for infants and toddlers and set the stage for all that happens at the center. Administrators and teachers must know child development and the specific needs and interests of their students in order to create a responsive appropriately challenging learning environment. Every object has its purpose and place and children know where to find what they need. A clean and beautiful center makes everyone happy to be there.

Many teachers are attracted to work at an early learning center precisely because the curriculum suits the needs and abilities of the children in their care. Child development along with a center’s mission and expectations are aligned. These centers invite teacher creativity and they nurture close emotional connections between the family and the institution. The curriculum of an early learning center reminds all of us what is possible and truly important when we let children be children and foster a curriculum for life.