Cabrillo College is located in Aptos, California just south of Santa Cruz. The College’s Children's Center opened in the 1980’s and was selected as a PITC Demonstration Program in 1999. The center cares for 75 children six months through five years of age, 39 of them in the infant/toddler program.
PITC infant care is about relationship planning, not lesson planning. Being responsive to each infant is at the heart of relationship planning. As a PITC demonstration program, Cabrillo Children’s Center continually explores ways to help infant care teachers get “in tune” with each infant they serve and learn from the individual infant what he or she needs, thinks and feels. Visitors who spend time at the Center notice the warmth of the teachers, the nurturing relationships they have formed with the children and parents, and the responsive “in tune” care they provide.
A place where close relationships blossom: The essential PITC policies in action.
To foster the development of close relationships, Cabrillo follows the PITC policy of primary care. Master teachers and teaching interns are primary infant/toddler care teachers for small groups of children. In the infant and older infant rooms, each primary infant/toddler care teacher is matched with three children. In the toddler room, the master teacher and the teacher intern are each matched with 6 primary care children, and student teachers help maintain lower adult:child ratios. Primary infant/toddler care teachers do home visits, communicate regularly with families, and perform all caregiving routines, assessments, documentation and curriculum planning for their children. Primary infant/toddler care teachers or infant care teachers work together as a team within each age-group room. An important role of team members is to act as secondary infant/toddler care teachers for the children in a room. Having a familiar secondary infant/toddler care teacher to turn to when their primary infant/toddler care teacher is not available strengthens children’s emotional security while in care. The Cabrillo Center demonstrates how well primary care works when the infant care teachers work together as a team.
Meaningful connections between the child care program and the child’s family and culture support each child’s developing identity, a major emphasis of the PITC. At Cabrillo, these connections are created through strong partnerships with families. Cabrillo uses many different strategies to build partnerships with families. It conducts home visits, holds regular meetings for family members, and organizes social events. It also plans family work days, family participation in the classrooms, mentoring relationships between families, and daily communication. Family artifacts and photos are included in the children’s rooms. Efforts are made to match children and families with primary infant/toddler care teachers who speak the family’s home language. Everything is translated and labeled in Spanish and English, and there is an emphasis in hiring bilingual and bicultural staff.
Cabrillo is working towards full implementation of continuity of care, another one of the PITC essential policies. With continuity of care, small groups of children and their primary infant/toddler care teachers stay together for three years, which allows relationships with both children and families to develop and deepen over time. Currently, one of the infant/toddler care teachers in each room moves with the group of children at the end of a year. This approach ensures that each child moves to the new room with either a primary or secondary infant/toddler care teacher. Having experienced the benefits of partial continuity, the staff continues to engage in dialogue, work with college policy and think creatively in its effort to move closer to full implementation of continuity of care.
Intimate care in an intimate environment
The infant/toddler program includes 3 rooms: an infant room for 8 infants between 6-11 months of age, an older infant room for 9 infants between 12-24 months of age, and a toddler room for 12 children between 2 and3 years of age.
With the support of PITC Demonstration Program Funds, Cabrillo completed the infant room in August of 2002. This room has many specialized features such as a heated floor, comfortable child sized furniture, muted earth-tone colors and natural light. These features help create the kind of homey inviting, and intimate environment that PITC recommends for infants.
The double doors shown here allow for easy movement between the indoor and outdoor spaces, an emphasis of the PITC. By being able to move freely between the indoors and outdoors children have increased opportunities for exploration and making discoveries. It also gives them access to fresh air, which fosters health and creates of feeling of comfort. Just one feature of the environment does so much to increase the quality of the children’s experience in care.
Floor-to-ceiling windows allow the infants to keep in visual contact while exploring both indoor and outdoor space. The windows offer a pleasing view of the campus’ green landscape as well as provide plenty of light, adding comfort and variety to the children’s learning environment.
The photos of the Older Infant Room illustrate key PITC recommendations. Warm colors, natural light, child size wooden furniture, accessible toys and plenty of space where children can move freely make this room a comfortable and inviting place for young children to explore.
The photo of a reading area in the Older Infant Room shows a cozy place where children can relax and look at books. The observation room for visitors that can be seen behind the sofa has a high window and comfortable seating. The outdoor observation area is below ground level, so observers are at eye-level with the action.
The toddler room illustrates many aspects of the PITC philosophy. The colors are soft and pleasing. The furniture and equipment are child-size, comfortable and accessible. The room offers children the freedom to choose between quiet and more active play. Each family has the opportunity to bring items from the home for display on the shelf to the left of the loft. This display of family memorabilia creates meaningful connections between child care and the child’s family and culture. It lets children know they belong. This message helps strengthen each child’s developing family and cultural identity, a critical component of any PITC-inspired program.
Physical closeness fosters both nonverbal and verbal communication between the teachers and the children, which is essential for the children’s social development, language development, cognitive development, and, above all, their development of emotional security.
Emotions are at the center of young children’s experiences as they begin to make sense of who they are and what to expect from the world around them. They learn whether adults respond to their communication, for example, their coos, smiles, cries, gestures, points, words, and requests. When adults are responsive, young children feel emotionally secure and become confident in their ability to have an effect on the world.
Infant care teachers who learn the PITC approach become good observers, increase their sensitivity to infants’ cues, and become better able to engage in attentive, respectful interactions with infants and toddlers. The positive experiences that children have with such care provide a solid foundation for all their future relationships. The teachers at Cabrillo believe that early development and learning stem from positive social relationships. Helping children to express feelings and negotiate with others starts with the youngest infants.
Routines such as feeding and diapering are the curriculum for infants and toddlers. Done the PITC way, routines promote close, primary relationships and offer learning opportunities through responsive care based on each child’s individual needs and interests.
A visitor observing the Cabrillo program will see that when teachers have to leave the room, they let each child, even the youngest baby, know where they are going, when they will be back, and who will be available and provide care while they are gone. This communication helps children build trust in the adults and learn to expect respectful relationship with other people. This respectful, approach to the feelings of infants and toddlers exemplifies the PITC philosophy.
Visitors often notice that there are no highchairs at Cabrillo. Children are held until they are able to sit on their own in child-sized chairs. As soon as the children are developmentally ready, they eat family style, and help to serve themselves and each other. To accommodate the individual eating schedules, food for the young infants is prepared in their room. In both the older infant and toddler rooms food is kept refrigerated for children who are not hungry at the scheduled mealtimes. Both of the rooms for the older children also keep nonperishable snacks on hand.
Diaper changes are special times for a teacher and child to connect with each other. For a teacher at the children’s center it is a time to learn about a child and strengthen a close relationship. Following PITC guidelines, the teacher who is the primary infant/toddler care teacher for a small group of children has responsibility for diapering each of them. If the primary infant/toddler care teacher is not available, the second infant/toddler care teacher in the room, whom the child already knows, will diaper the child. The secondary infant/toddler care teacher will first check with the primary infant/toddler care teacher before diapering and then will talk with the child during their experience. This respectful back and forth exchange during diaper changes helps young children to trust and understand what to expect in relationships.
Dedicated nap spaces in the infant and older infant rooms allow children to sleep on their own schedule. In the toddler room, there are quiet spaces children can use if they are sleepy. The nap room windows are low enough to allow infant/toddler care teachers to see napping children while seated on the floor with other children in the main indoor room.
The Outdoor Environment
Like the indoor rooms, the outdoor environment provides children with comfortable, intimate spaces, a variety of choices, and freedom to explore. Every room at Cabrillo has direct access to its own outdoor space. Each of these yards offers safe, appropriate challenges for the age group for which it is designed.
Eric Hoffman, the Center Director, designed and built many of the play structures. For flexibility, they have components that can be easily changed. Here are photos of three of the structures. Notice the natural materials. They are pleasing to the eye and soften the environment.
The grasses and dirt in the garden provide rich tactile experiences for the small children who spend so much time close to the ground. Every yard has a dirt or mud area, which, of course, are very popular with the children!
Through observation, the teachers identified simple, familiar objects that interested the children. The teachers then hung those objects in different ways to catch the attention of the children and engage their natural curiosity and sense of play. This example illustrates the PITC approach to supporting early learning by discovering what interests the children and then finding ways to build on that interest. The new possibilities fascinate the children. It is just as fascinating for the teachers, as they have a chance to see the look of wonder on each child’s face.