Infant child care research indicates that the first three years of life are critical for physical, social-emotional, and intellectual development. Infants' experiences early in life literally influence the physical structures of the brain, opening the way for patterns of thought and behavior for the rest of a child's life. Social emotional development begins at birth and continues throughout life, providing a foundation for meaningful relationships and learning. Infant child care can have a great influence on what infants see, hear, touch, taste, feel, and smell while children are in their care. Healthy relationships with caregivers allows for optimal social emotional development to occur.
Young infants, approximately birth to 9 months, are reacting to the new world around them and are most concerned with security. To strengthen development for young infants, provide experiences that encourage feelings of trust. Create comfortable, quiet spaces away from older children where caregivers can nurture and soothe young infants. Assign the same infant child care employee to the same infant each day to help build trust and familiarity.
Mobile infants, approximately 9 to 18 months, are consumed with wanting to move and explore. Mobile infants will crawl, scoot, climb, and take steps towards anything and everything that is in front of them. Caregivers must provide mobile infants will environments that are at all times safe, clean and stimulating.
Since children learn through their experiences, it is also important that the environments to which they have access are safe, responsive, and meaningful. One of the most important responsibilities of infant child care givers is to keep children safe and healthy. Since infants explore their worlds through their senses and movement, by touching and mouthing anything within their reach, the space where they play and sleep should be free from danger to the greatest extent possible.
To help in this process, you may want to actually get down on your hands and knees in the infant areas and check from their view-point to find hazards.
For more infant child care information and ideas on how to implement strategies to develop safe, meaningful, and responsive environments for infants, see Extension Online Courses, including: