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Infant and Toddler Caregiving Routines Offer Connection and Learning

Working with infants and toddlers means that a large portion of the day is spent on caregiving routines, such as diaper changes, mealtimes, and napping. These caregiving activities are also wonderful early learning opportunities. In this article, we take a look at how infants and toddlers learn through routines and how educators can make the most of the many caregiving moments that occur throughout the day. 

Learning Through Connections and Care

Caregiving routines offer many special bonding opportunities between children and their caregivers. As caregivers, when we communicate respect and consideration during daily routines, infants and toddlers learn that they can feel safe in our care.

These ideas are foundational principles of a philosophy called Educaring, an approach to infant care that is commonly practiced by educators and parents. This approach was first introduced by Magda Gerber, an early childhood educator, child therapist, and infant specialist who believed in treating infants with respect and in trusting the innate ability of infants to develop naturally at their own pace. The Educaring approach is built on the idea that children who are cared for in a responsive environment, with reliable and dependable routines, will feel safe and secure. When children feel safe, they are free to explore their environment independently and initiate their own learning. Gerber wrote, “whereas a care-giver may rush through routine caring activities in order to get ready for the more valued time of following a curriculum, lesson plan, or providing some structured stimulation, the educarer uses the time that must be spent with the child anyway as a potential source of valued learning experience.” 

Routines To Support Skill Development

Not only do these routines build trust, but they also help children to learn important social-emotional and cognitive skills. During caregiving routines, such as diaper changing or feeding, infants get to enjoy 1:1 social interactions with their caregivers. In these interactions, caregivers communicate verbally with infants about what they are doing, which will encourages infants to communicate back with eye contact, gestures, and speech sounds. 

Older infants and toddlers can take part in their caregiving routines by washing their hands, feeding themselves during meals, or pulling their pants back on after a diaper change. These experiences help children learn about self-care and satisfy their growing need for independence. They also help children learn about their bodies as they begin to understand their physical needs.  

Tips and Ideas for Facilitating Connection

We know that these moments matter. Being intentional about our time with young children is always an important part of our work. Magda Gerber developed a list of ten tips for caregiver/infant bonding, which are summarized here: 

  • Invest in quality time. Take your time with each child during caregiving routines. Use these interactions as opportunities to bond and get to know each child better. Be intentional about creating time to spend with each individual child by engaging in child-directed activities, reading books together, or spending time sitting on the ground at the child’s level to see what kinds of activities they are interested in. 

  • Build security by demonstrating trust. Respond to children quickly when they cry or try to get your attention. Be consistent with the timing of daily activities and routines so that children know what to expect. Communicate with children verbally, especially if you are out of their eyesight, to let them know that you are close by and available to support them. Saying things like, “I’m right over here, I’m close by and I’m watching you while you play with the blocks,” can help children to feel safe and to know that you are there for them. 

  • Greet children at arrival and say goodbye when they leave. The way that children come into an environment sets the tone for the day. Ensure that you welcome both parents and children each morning and let them know that you are happy to see them. At the end of the day, say goodbye to both the child and the parent and let them know when you will see them next. These openings and closings of the day become routines that children count on to help them know what to expect. 

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