Starting an Infant Program – Part 1
My palms were sweaty for the first time in a long time.
I hadn’t figured out the bottle warmers yet.
My co-teacher, Andrea (she/her), and I talked about the sensory experiences we wanted to bring in.
We arranged our room to be cozy and homey.
The familiar sight and scents of our rainbow room, a room I had just spent the last year as a toddler teacher in, seemed like a distant memory. I thought, “wow, is this how infants must feel every day when they’re exposed to a new environment?” But I had no time to think further. We had no time to freak out as we imagined how we would support eight babies and the two of us (luckily only four were enrolled at the time). It was time to just focus on the skills and training that led us here. It was time to focus on the first new child in our brand new infant room who was set to arrive that first day. It was just time to do it.
As these incredible humans were handed over to us, some with tears, some with bewilderment on their face, I was so struck by how invested they were immediately in figuring out what was happening. They watched us scurrying around and I could see in their eyes that big question:
“Can I trust you?”
Every other priority moved down a notch as we zeroed in on that relationship building teachers must do at the beginning of every year. It simultaneously felt like an intensified version of that and the most simple. I saw in their face them asking me, “can I trust you?” I saw in their caregivers eyes them asking “will you support, challenge, and love my child of color?” I looked at Andrea, a person I knew for barely a month at this point, and she looked at me, silently asking each other the question that my colleague Mike Browne (he/him), poised, “can you, as white educators ensure that they (children of color) can be happy, whole, and vulnerable in a learning space, without adult-like culpability?”
It was easy for us to say yes. But what would the babies say? Would they agree? Would they feel like they belong? Do they believe that in this environment is an environment in which we see all their brilliance and beauty?
And that’s the hardest question to answer if you ever worked with infants. On one hand, these humans each spoke their own language that I wasn’t fluent in yet. They had very tailored schedules and diets. For the vast majority of them, it was the first time in care and away from their primary caregivers. On the other hand, they were so committed to being understood and letting us know if and when their needs were being met. Eating, sleeping, diapers, music, and cuddles dominated those first weeks as we all got to know each other and trust each other. And while they weren’t able to verbalize in the dominate language we use in our center, they nonetheless communicated in the 99 other languages children hold. Whether it was the first time they reached out to me at “drop off” or they tears they cried when it was time to leave for the day, they were able to answer that question for us with an enthusiastic yes!
“How are we actually observing children, listening to them, giving them space, and allowing them to communicate in ways that are healthy and appropriate for them, their culture, their lifestyles?”
My background is Reggio inspired with a personal emphasis on the rights of children and anti-bias education. I had some ideas on how that might play out with infants but was truly curious what was going to be possible. How could I show them respect? Would I be effective in communicating to other adults about these babies’ competences? What kind of risky play was going to be possible/allowed? How was I going to stay accountable to fairness, equity, and anti-bias when I have grown accustomed to preschoolers verbalizing and calling those inequities in their environment out?
Teaching during these COVID times had already been a challenge. It was a challenge in staying true to my approach. It was challenge in staying in love with my work. It also brought on new opportunities to reflect. Opportunities to reflect on how to bring my philosophy into this infant room and about why I have this philosophy to begin with at all.
I had to consider:
if my convictions on children and childhood had an age range, then does this even really hold true?
What ideas around childhood still holds true for me?
If I see children as capable community members, shouldn’t that begin as soon as they show up?
If I believe people have an impact on their communities regardless of age, how will I translate these hopes, expectations, and joyful connections with 3 and 40 year olds, into my interactions with infants?
After all, I have been doing that as I moved between age groups throughout my career. Why should these brilliant, beautiful, babies be any different? Why should that not apply even more to the adults in my life?
The foundational values and motivation to build up my students as curious learners with solid social/emotional understandings existed in all my classrooms just with their own developmentally appropriate tweaks. And I saw that same opportunity with my infants.
Sometimes we forget this but working in Early Childhood Education is a blessing. It’s a reminder to bring my best observation skills and dig deep in my understanding of the hundred languages of children in everywhere I go. And, in this new chapter of my professional life – being a part of the opening of our infant room – is one that has brought me so much joy. The knowledge, heart, and thoughtfulness that goes into our youngest citizens is one we should hold onto into every aspects of our lives and my hopes is that this will inspire you to hold onto that into every part of the programs and communities you’re a part of.