As you visit child care centers and family child care homes, watch for:
- A cozy, loving environment with a homey look. Babies are cuddled often, in caring arms, and are tenderly held and attended to during feedings. At naptime, your baby will have her own "blankie" or her special soft animal. Plants and flowers adorn the room, providing fragrances for babies to smell.
- Caregivers who enjoy playing with babies. Adults often engage in special games (such as peekaboo and patty-cake) — and babies soon learn to enthusiastically join in. Caregivers encourage babies to crawl or toddle toward them as they gain more mobility.
- Many toys for infants to explore. Look for a variety of items for babies to push, pull, squeeze, roll, bang together, and investigate. Other essential toys include puzzles with knobs on each piece, soft balls for squeezing, large balls for rolling, and pegboards for hammering. All toys are washed daily and none are small enough for babies to choke on.
- An abundance of a variety of blocks. There should be lots of one-inch wooden cubes that babies can pick up, bang together with two hands, pour into and out of containers, and build with.
- Frequent experiences for learning language. Caregivers use daily routines as wonderful opportunities to talk. They name and label new sights, sounds, tastes, toys, and activities. One-on-one conversations are frequent, and caregivers responded to babies' coos, babbles, and single words with genuine pleasure.
- Lots of singing and crooning. Caregivers ease infants into naptimes and comfort them when they're distressed by singing familiar songs.
- Durable and inviting books that are read daily. Books should be made of plastic, cloth, or heavy cardboard. There should be one picture per page, showing familiar things such as a dog, ball, shoe, baby, or apple.
- Family photo albums for each baby. Your providers should invite you to keep a book with family photos in the child-care facility so they can snuggle up with your baby to look at the pictures of precious family members.
- Experiences to build small-motor skills and dexterity. Caregivers engage babies in activities that help them develop important skills such as picking up cereal with their thumb and forefinger.
- Social and friendly mealtimes. Caregivers show patience with the dribbling of infants learning to handle strained food and the drippy messes of babies getting the hang of sippy cups.
About the Author
Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. She is the author of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant-Toddler Attachments in Early Care Settings.