Sweating the Small Stuff – Things Heat Up in the Infant Room

It’s funny how The More Things Change – The More Things Stay the Same. Each Spring over the past 10+ years or so, we’ve come to anticipate the season bringing temperamental conditions in the form of runny noses, growth spurts, limit testing- even the weather may fluctuate from one extreme to the other.

If you’ve been around a few years, you learn to stay just slightly ahead of the tide. You’ll find our faculty meetings packed with reminders for health and sanitation best practices, if/when/how to apply bug spray or sunscreen, and curriculum enhancements to address growing needs. We’ve even come up with a plan on how to set the thermostat, when to open or close windows, and a communications protocol so that the entire school is able to respond to the center’s HVAC needs during days which begin in the upper 50s (10 C) and end in the mid 80s (27 C).

And each year we know where to go when making that call – the Infant Room.

While social cohesion, collaboration, self-regulation (a strong indicator for academic success) and free movement are integral components comprising our school value system- the child’s capability across the varying planes of development from infancy to Kindergarden age varies widely. Our obligation as a center lies in meeting these varying needs at the weakest- or rather- most fragile level providing the necessary infrastructure to allow the child to feel supported and competent as she works towards independence and mastery. In regards to being able to regulate body temperature- we look to our babies in determining if/when/how to close up the doors and set the thermostat.

You might think it strange that we spend so much time and energy contemplating turning on the AC – it would be much easier just to set the thermostat and move on.

While we recognize that being in the Deep South of the United States we will ultimately be relegated to the climate controlled indoors with internmittant access to the outside, we also recognize that once so, our children will break connections with each other, with their self motivation, and with nature. Once we plug into the AC the doors shut- children lose their ability to connect visually, verbally and physically with adjacent communities involving older friends and siblings. Prior to door closing movement and cognition intertwined- now free movement is more restricted usually resulting in the outdoors being a place for gross motor activity while the indoors one for controlled movements in sensitivity to the group. Reluctantly, a bird’s song, the smell of approaching rain, and soft Spring breeze is replaced with the hum of an air conditioner switching on and off.

This time of year- we’re sweating it as we balance the needs of our entire school community with that of our youngest members. When things heat up in the infant room, it’s no small matter. Overheating an infant may increase the risk for SIDS.

Revisiting our school procedures, I asked Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Board President, Polly Elam for input. Ms. Elam has 35 years experience in the early childhood field as a ECE Center Director, Regional Program Administrator and a Community College Instructor. While State License agencies may have differing requirements regarding temperature (South Carolina lies somewhere between 68 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit) many stipulate the room temperature to be “as appropriate to the season” leaving a vague interpretation. Even parental guidance provided on the SIDS website is open to interpretation: “Do not over-clothe the infant while she sleeps. Just use enough clothes to keep the baby warm without having to use cover. Keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for you.”

Polly interjects-

“Keep a room at a temperature that is comfortable for you” can be debatable in a child care center where we all have varying opinions on what is comfortable. You would have to keep the temperature set at 80 for me and I would still need a sweatshirt because I am always cold. The various websites all give somewhat conflicting recommendations. It appears you are already doing what most recommend and as I recall from my visit, the children sleep with very light clothing.

Of course, it’s nice when your policies are within recommended guidelines- however, being with babies means that we have to surpass stated standards, constantly evaluating center practice and the well-bing of each child keeping in mind that an infant’s needs can often be quite different than the adult’s- even with something as basic and temperature control.  Anna Tardos, Director of the Pikler Institute (an orphanage in Budapest), reminds us that when you are assessing your practice- first and foremost- look at the child.
How IS the child.  
On that particular day, we were also taking a moment for photographic documentation- here is what we saw the children doing.  The thermostat hung between 78-80 while a breeze blew through the open solarium door.
Several times during my observation of the Infant Environment between 2:15pm-4:00pm that day I was able to reach out in gesture or smile- at times, I connected physically with the babies. What was I looking for? An infant’s skin should feel cool to the touch (not clammy), appear content and peaceful, and should be actively exploring the environment. Without looking at a control panel, I was able to assess if the temperature was comfortable and safe for the babies in our care.   Still, the relationship of a baby being overheated in question of an increase risk to SIDS lingered, so we dug a little deeper.
In regards to SIDS, fellow RIE Associate Lisa Sunburry of REGARDING BABY remarks, “…everything I’ve ever read about SIDS and room temperature seems the problems aren’t so much caused by the room temp., but by over -bundling of babies. ”  Lisa pointed us to: 
So what is our balance at Little Learners Lodge? Currently, we’re checking our thermostat for accuracy…. and in the meantime, it’s set to a cozy 78 Fahrenheit. Until the AC kicks on we’ll all enjoy our outdoor access the sights, sounds and smells of nature and our school community. We’ll remind ourselves to dress children for the weather – teachers, too- offering refreshing water breaks periodically. During sleep, we’ll keep our rest items minimal- a light blanket at most and make sure the fans are on to assist with air circulation.
We’re also on the hunt for vinyl strips (like they use in warehouses) for doorways in order that the children can pass through to the outdoors while keep the cool air in. Seen any?

One thought on “Sweating the Small Stuff – Things Heat Up in the Infant Room”

  1. I appreciate the care and attention that you take in making these decisions. I also admire the thought that goes into every aspect of creating an ideal environment and experience for every child at your center, and the careful attention that is paid to the well being of the youngest and most vulnerable of your children. Also, what a fine example of transparency, and clear, respectful communication to address the school community’s questions and concerns.

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