At the Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC), we consider a relationship-based approach to caring for infants and toddlers essential. PITC believes responsive, respectful care in a relationship is key for supporting early learning, rather than developing lessons for infants to master. Adults who implement the PITC find ways to allow for, expand, adapt, and encourage infants' efforts to pursue their inborn learning agenda.
To support implementation of PITC, we provide professional development and resources to the early childhood education community. PITC promotes relationship-based care through six essential program policies: Primary Care, Small Groups, Continuity of Care, Individualized Care, Culturally Responsive Care, and Inclusive Care. When followed, our approach to infant and toddler care fosters:
- Care in safe, engaging, and intimate settings.
- Children having time and opportunity to establish and sustain secure and trusting relationships with infant care teachers and other children.
- Development of knowledgeable infant care teachers who are responsive to children's needs and interests.
The Program for Infant/Toddler Care Philosophy
At the heart of the Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC) is a commitment to care for infants and toddlers that respects the diverse cultures, lifestyles, preferences, abilities, learning styles, and needs of the children and families served. PITC is responsive to what the infants and toddlers and their families bring to care and emphasizes relationship-based implementation strategies. The positions advocated by PITC are based on sound child development and family research, which leads to the following working assumptions:
- Families need to be partners in care. Programs should seek out families’ beliefs, values, practices, and child rearing strategies and include them in the program’s caregiving practices whenever possible.
- Young children are unique individuals with varying temperaments, rates of development, and interests. These individual differences should be identified and strategies appropriate to each child’s unique needs incorporated in child care practice.
- Young children are curious motivated learners and also dependent upon adults for nurturance, support, and guidance. They need to be both respected as learners and protected in their vulnerability. Planning for a child’s care in the program is a shared experience that includes families and program staff and is individualized for children by:
- welcoming family and cultural practices, including home language, as a part of the child care experience;
- providing infants close and responsive relationships with caregivers in intimate settings;
- designing safe, interesting, and developmentally appropriate environments;
- giving infants uninterrupted time to explore; and
- interacting with infants during caregiving routines and throughout the day in ways that emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically support their initiations in discovery and learning.
Six Program Policies Anchor Our Work
In a primary care system, each child is assigned to one special infant care teacher who is principally responsible for that child’s care. When children spend a longer day in care than their primary care teacher does, a second care teacher is assigned to provide the primary relationship. Each child should have a special care teacher assigned to him or her at all times during the child care day. Teaming is also important. Primary care works best when teachers team up, support each other, and provide a backup base for security for each other’s primary care children. Primary care does not mean exclusive care. It means, however, that all parties know who has primary responsibility for each child.
Every major research study on infant and toddler care has shown that small group size and good ratios are key components of quality care. PITC recommends primary care ratios of 1:3 or 1:4, in groups of 6-12 children, depending on the age. The guiding principle is the younger the child, the smaller the group. Small groups facilitate personalized care that infants and toddlers need, and support peaceful exchanges, freedom and safety to move and explore, and the development of intimate relationships.
Continuity of Care
Continuity of care is the third key to providing the deep connections that infants and toddlers need for quality child care. Programs that incorporate the concept of continuity of care keep primary caregivers and children together throughout the three years of the infancy period, or during the entirety of the child's enrollment in care as an infant.
Following children’s unique rhythms and styles promotes well-being and a healthy sense of self. Children need to feel positively about their biological rhythms or needs that may differ from those of other children.
Responding promptly to children’s individual needs supports their growing ability to self-regulate, (i.e., to function autonomously in personal and social contexts). The program adapts to each child, rather than vice versa and the children get the message that each of them is important, that their needs will be met, and that their choices, preferences, and impulses are respected.
Culturally Responsive Care
Children develop a sense of who they are and what is important through life through cultural experiences. Traditionally, the child's family and cultural community have been solely responsible for the transmission of values, expectations, and ways of doing things, especially during the early years of life. As more children enter child care during the tender years of infancy, their cultural identity and sense of belonging in their own families are influenced by their experience in care. Consistency of care between home and child care, always important for the very young, becomes even more so when the infant or toddler is cared for in the context of cultural practices different from those of the child's family. Because of the important role of culture in development, infant care teachers who work with families from diverse backgrounds need to:
- heighten their understanding of the importance of culture in the lives of infants;
- develop cultural competencies;
- acknowledge and respect cultural differences; and
- learn to be open and responsive to different culturally based practices, and willing to negotiate with families about child rearing. In working together with families to create cultural continuity between home and the child care program, infant care teachers can facilitate the optimal development of each child.
Inclusive care means making the benefits of high-quality care available to all infants through appropriate accommodation and support, so that each child can actively and fully participate in the program. The PITC's, relationship-based approach to care, which is individualized and responsive to each child’s cues, needs, and interests, facilitates the inclusion of children with disabilities or delays. Infants who have responsive, enduring relationships develop emotional security, which provides a foundation for social competence and resilience. Individualized care supports inclusion through allowing children to learn and grow in their own way and at their own pace.
Developed by J. Ronald Lally and Peter L. Mangione. © WestEd, The Program for Infant/Toddler Care.