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Providing Programs That Meet Infant and Toddler Needs
By Carolyn R. Tomlin

A parent tells of visiting an early childhood program prior to enrolling her infant. On the tour the mom witnesses several young babies strapped in infant seats while the teacher read a lengthy story written for older children. Hopefully this was an isolated instance -- and one that would never happen in other child care centers!

Programs for infant and toddlers have specific needs. Through the years we have searched for programs that nurture the young child. Jean Piaget, provided us with a great deal of information about the growth of intelligence in babies. However, most of the material comes from the studies of his three children. In the 1960s Burton L. White, one of the early pioneers in infant and toddler development, designed the Harvard Preschool Project. Its purpose was to explore the question of how any child could be helped to make the most of his or her innate potential through the provision of the most beneficial experiences throughout the first six years of life. The project concentrated on observations of many different kinds of children as they went about their daily activities in their own homes.

The first question focused on the definition of a well-developed six-year-old. The second, when in the early years signs of very good development first surfaced? The concluding data stated that the distinguishing characteristics of wonderful six-year-olds were sometimes present by the third birthday. Other reports indicated that reversing the poor pattern of development after the third birthday was a surprisingly difficult enterprise (White, 1988). Therefore, intervention prior to this time made a difference in children at risk -- meaning lack of early medical care, bonding with a responsible adult, poor nutrition, concern for the infant's safety and numerous other risks.

The following are only a few of the programs being used in child care centers. Center directors and teachers are encouraged to attend meetings and programs to learn the positive and negative aspects of all programs. Networking with others in the field of early childhood education makes a difference.


Baby Lapsit Programs

Sharing resources in a library are one of the newest programs for parents or caregivers and babies between 0 and 18 months. A positive and supportive environment (between 20 - 30 minutes) exposes the young child to language, books, and fun activities. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh uses this approach as a way to introduce young children to the library and to foster the lifetime use of this facility. Child care providers may schedule a visit from the library or find information to begin a Baby Lapsit Program in their area.

Toddler Storytimes focuses on children between 18 and 36 months who attend with their parents or caregivers. As caregivers participate in the program they are encouraged to use more fingerplays and song activities that accompany stories.


Intergenerational Programs

Being used successfully in both small towns and large cities across our country is the Intergenerational Programs that combine senior citizens and children from infancy through school age. Statistics show that the U.S. population is becoming older. Estimates indicate that by 2030, 20 percent will be 65 years, or more. With improved health care and nutrition, people not only live longer, but maintain an active lifestyle as years advance. Keeping busy after retirement may require some day care for the elderly. On the other side, 13 million young children need out-of-home care. With both parents working, the demand for good quality programs has increased.  Programs for placing these two age groups together for part of each day contain two goals: First, help the elderly maintain current abilities, and second, support young children as they gain new skills.


Benefits from Intergenerational Programs

  • Both groups for selected activities can share space and facilities. Seniors interact with infants and young children through reading books, working puzzles and games or rocking an infant.
  • Time is available for bonding between seniors and the young child. Being with the same caregiver each day provides a sense of trust for babies.
  • Both groups enjoy activities that expand cognitive and social skills.
  • Young children learn to be more accepting of the elderly through communication.
  • The elderly feel they are making a lifelong contribution to the next generation.
  • Teachers for young children are always on site. Seniors are not baby-sitters, but are seen as support for the teachers.


Outdoor Programs for Babies and Toddlers (including parents)

If you live in an area where the weather is warm or during the summer months, take advantage of outdoor programs for babies and toddlers. Keep in mind special considerations for outdoor activities. With a little creativity these obstacles can be overcome.

Consider your exterior area, as to fencing and containment. Either provide a safe fenced-in area or make a "human barrier" of parents and staff so babies and toddlers will always be confined within the boundary.

Ask parents to bring quilts or blankets for outdoor sitting. Remember to suggest bug/insect protection. Finding a shady area will be appreciated on warm days.

Take advantage of distractions and interruptions as a way to extend the curriculum. For example, if a helicopter flies overheard, encourage toddlers to pretend to fly like this type of vehicle.

Use the outdoors for activities unsuited to the indoor. For example, place a one hula-hoop on a grassy yard for each child. Ask parents to help their toddler locate insects living in this area.

Be flexible with outdoor activities such as unexpected rain or wind.  Realize that babies and toddlers may be uncomfortable in excessive heat.


Teacher and staff training make a difference

In  Models of Early Childhood Education by Epstein, Schweinhart, &   McAdoo (1996), the ago-old debate is discussed as to whether teaching is an art or science. Some researchers support the theory that teaching is an art involving the creative response of individual teachers to individual children without clear links to theory or research. Others argue that teaching is a science that directs teachers in procedures established through theory and research findings. However, many educators hold to the truth that good teaching is both an art and a science, involving the creative but disciplined application of research-based knowledge to working with children or adults (Shouse, 2004).


Benefits of Inservice Training

  • Safe and well-equipped physical environment under the direction of a nurturing staff.
  • Improved programs result from inservice training.
  • Better programs support the following:
  • Awareness of and access of age-level materials
  • Children receive more opportunities for making choices
  • Time to explore and review self-initiated activities
  • Improved observational and questioning skills that help adults support children’s cognitive skills and language development.
  • When inservice training is conducted in a proper way, teaching practices can be improved and programs enhanced for both children and families.



Child care directors and teachers must stay current on programs for infants and young children. Network with other workers. Read publications in your area. Help parents believe they are being good caregivers. Young children are our future.



Ratio of infant to staff

The state of Tennessee has one of the lowest child-teacher ratio requiring no more than 4 infants (6 weeks to 15 months) to one adult; 6 toddlers (12 - 30 months) to one adult. This rule varies from state to state.


Materials List - Games Books for Infant and Toddlers

Acedolo, Linda and Susan Goodwyn. Baby Minds: Brain Building Games Your Baby Will Love.

Lansky, Vicki. Games Babies Play, From Birth to Twelve Months, 2nd Edition.

Schiller, Pamela B. The Complete Book of Rhymes, Songs, Poems, Fingerplays and Chants.

Silberg, Jackie. 125 Brain Games for Babies.

Silberg, Jackie and Laura D’Argo. Games to Play with Babies, 3rd Edition, Gryphon House

Silberg, Jackie. Games to Play with Toddlers, Gryphon House


Music for Infant and Toddlers

Falkner, Jason. “Bedtime With the Beatles”

“Lullaby: A Collection” – various artists

Malia, Tina “Lullaby Favorites”

Raffi, “Singable Songs for the Very Young”

“Tropical Lullaby” – various artists


CD-ROM Programs for Infant and Toddlers (Rocky Mountain Learning Systems)

Muppet Babies Toyland Train, 2-5 years

My First CD-ROM, 18 months- 3 years

Mickey's Toddler - with Active Learning Advantage, 18 months - 3 years

Reader Rabbit Playtime for Baby, 9 - 24 months

Little Bear Toddler Discovery Adventure, 18 months - 3 years.


On-line Resources


Massachusetts Regional Library Systems


Kids' Page


State Library of Ohio Services


An interactive music program focusing on musical development for you and your children, from birth to 4-years.


Rocky Mountain Learning System, a software program for Babies and Toddlers


Epstein, Ann S. “Let’s do Something Together: The Components of Effective Intergenerational Programs” High/Scope Resource: A Magazine for Educators, Vol. 23, No. 1/Spring 2004.

Shouse, A. Clay, “What Difference Does Training Make” High/Scope Resource, Vol. 23, No. 1/Spring 2004.

Epstein, Schweinhart, & McAdoo Models of Early Childhood Education, High/Scope Press, 1996.

White, Burton L. Educating the Infant and Toddler. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Co. 1988.



Carolyn R. Tomlin has been a child care director, taught kindergarten in public school and taught early childhood education at Union University in Jackson, TN. She contributes to numerous educational publications.