When parents choose child care for their infant or toddler, they are making a decision that goes far beyond choosing a “babysitter.” The quality of infant care can affect youngsters’ mental and emotional development for the rest of their lives.
Infant experiences shape the development of brain architecture, “which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health,” according to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
Research shows brain development begins with the creation of a series of paths among the brain’s billions of neurons. These early connections and paths are the foundation of learning in the future.
Even though genetics provides the basic blueprint for a child’s brain, Harvard’s research shows that the most important factor in developing healthy neural pathways is interaction with parents and other caregivers. It’s a process called “serve and return” in which infants learn by how adults respond to them. When adults don’t respond, or when they respond inappropriately, it affects a child’s long-term development.
This research points to the critical importance of finding high-quality infant and toddler care when parents need to work outside the home. Based on the components of high-quality care published by the New York Early Care and Learning Council, parents seeking child care should look for these elements:
1. Basic health and safety
Does the provider take steps to ensure health and minimize the risk of injury?
2. Staff education level
Infant and toddler care providers should understand the learning abilities of newborns to 3-year-olds and be able to plan appropriate activities. Do they know how to interact with youngsters and respond to them?
3. An age-appropriate environment
Young children need appropriate space for both active and quiet time, along with proper equipment, toys and books. How is the place set up to facilitate a range of activities?
4. Ratio of staff to children
Infants need one-on-one time, while 3- and 4-year-olds don’t need as much individualized care. How do staff-to-children ratios compare among the child care providers you’re considering?
5. A primary caregiver
Each child should be assigned a primary caregiver who can respond a child’s unique needs and temperament. This kind of stability is important for development. Who would be your child’s go-to person?
6. Responsive caregiving
Caregivers should be aware of each child’s development pace and be prepared to teach or intervene, depending on circumstances.
7. Observation and individualized learning
As with several point, caregivers must be aware of each child’s needs, prepare individual activities and document progress.
8. Language and literacy
Infants and toddlers should be immersed in story telling, reading, singing and conversations, so they develop strong language skills. How will the center you’re considering encourage a love of words?
Child and Family Opportunities, which provides infant and toddler care and preschool in Down East Maine, has more information on its website about the relationship between child care and brain development.