Category Archives: socialization

Infant Peer Learning- Five Essential Elements


When it comes to the research on peer learning, we don’t often think of infants. However, groups of young children together in a trusting environment demonstrate the earliest stages of this concept.


Babies together constructing their own understanding of their environment

Oftentimes, group providers miss these subtle learning interactions as we balance individual child physical care needs, governing regulatory obligations and parental requests and concerns. How can we trust that the child is learning without adult intervention?

In peer learning, students will engage themselves intellectuallyemotionally and socially in “constructive conversation” and learn by talking and questioning each other’s views and reaching consensus or dissent (Boud, 2001).

Here we observe a child struggling to place the lid on the bottom of a bowling pin. He’s noticed the similar circles of the two objects, but he’s become frustrated in trying to put the two together.

Peer Learning - Infant
Little Learners Lodge (David Vigliotti)

Sensitive to his friend’s distress, an infant moves close by with a lid of his own.

Peer Learning - Infant
Little Learners Lodge (David Vigliotti)

The first child relaxes almost immediately and offers the bowling pin to his peer. Their toes connect as one takes the pin in hand and the other lets go.

Peer Learning - Infant
Little Learners Lodge (David Vigliotti)

Holding the pin upright, the infant demonstrates what he has learned about lid positioning and balance while the first child looks on.

Yet, peer learning does not occur spontaneously. It requires planning, appreciation, and trusting the children to be self-learners. At the center, we’ve developed five essential elements to encourage infant peer learning.

Five Essential Elements to Encourage Infant Peer Learning in Group Care

  • Continuity of Care – Many recognize the value of Primary Care in group situation involving one adult primarily taking care of a small group’s physical and emotional needs. When it comes to being with babies, many hands do not make for light work. Rather, it’s the secure competent hands of a trusted adult. Continuity of Care takes this commitment a step further by ensuring that the relationships amongst this primary provider AND the relationship amongst the small group of babies under her care remain together over time. In a nutshell, children of like age and/or development stay together and transition together with their trusted adult for at least one or two years. There’s no graduating to the “creeper room” unless the group transitions together.


  • Physical and Emotional Needs Met – Primary Caregiving helps ensure that a child’s physical and emotional needs are met by encouraging one adult to build a long-standing and trusting relationship with a small group of children. During physical care, the adult is fully present with each individual child- giving the baby all the time he needs to be satisfied physically and emotionally. No other task at hand exists. As a result, when the child is outside physical care, she “wants nothing” and is free to explore and interact with her environment and peers.


  • Prepared Environment – The environment itself must be prepared to be physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing with consistent and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline. Appreciating the value self-directed play and learning, the adult is free to observe, set safety expectations, and prepare the environment for continued child development. The child is the curriculum and the lesson found in the environment.


  • Time for Uninterrupted Play – It’s not enough to simply allow for time to freely move, play and interact with the environment. Babies need this time to be uninterrupted. Interruptions in group care take many forms: photos for documentation, lesson plans, doors opening/closing as adults enter or leave the space, adults walking though the play space, tours and observers involving those outside the center community, and more…

and, of course-

  • Freedom to Explore and Interact with Other Infants – How close do you allow babies to come together in play without moving proximal and, thus, interfering with what may transpire. Do you allow them to pass toys? Can they crawl over each other? Can they mouth an item and then place it down? Knowing if, when, and how to intercede is a dance. Sometimes even the simple act of observing can distract an infant’s exploration when the adult enters her space.

Although important, being with babies is so much more than feeding, diapering, sleeping and reading stories. Being with Babies is about encouraging the next generation to enjoy, discover, and collaborate in peace with each other. We sometimes forget that given the pay and regard for childcare providers that it all starts here. Fortunately, we have the assistance from each other, from involved parents, and from our littlest ones in seeing this task successfully though.


On peer learning

3 hour Video Training supporting Frontline Caregivers

The well-being of young children in institutions

Parent Resource in Raising Self-Confident Babies




the final goodbye

One week into the summer school year and our new preschool friends are still getting to know us.  The typically peaceful playground where we meet each morning, now dotted with tearful goodbyes.  Heartstrings pulled as parents depart for the day.  One can’t help but worry of a child’s well-being the first time he is away from his family.

Another hug.

One more kiss.

The final goodbye.

Mid-mornings during the next few weeks will be followed by a series of check-ins as we assure parents and provide information regarding their child’s progress.  Separation during the time that a child is building a relationship with her teacher and peers can make saying goodbye in the morning difficult.  Always, the crying is the hardest part.

Crying, however, can be a positive indicator that your child enjoys a healthy attachment with his family.  More concerning would be if a child were to run off with us as strangers without the need for a final goodbye, one more kiss, or another hug.  Over time, teacher and parent will establish their rapport and your child will feel safe and secure with his new friends.

Until then, parents can assist their children with separation by:

1.  establishing consistent routines.  The more consistent you are in every details with the young child, the better she is able to process and incorporate what is to come- even to the detail of where you park your car.  When able, both parents being involved those first few days will facilitate a family ritual of coming to school that will continue when either Mom or Dad drops off.

2.  choosing a quiet place.  Avoid high traffic areas when saying goodbye to your little one.  It’s difficult to connect with your child and refuel her if you are trying to do so near an entrance.  Look for a nearby area away from the hustle and bustle, preferably near her primary teacher.

3.  maintaining a positive attitude, even when you don’t feel good about the situation.  Your child will absorb your attitude and words as you separate for the very first time.  It’s OK to acknowledge that you will miss each other and empathize that being in a new situation can be difficult.  However, when you believe your child is in good hands and when you value the experiences he will have with new friends, he will share in that.  In the meantime, do find ways to connect with your teacher especially during the next few weeks in order that you can cultivate your own sense of well-being and convey that to your child.

4.  resisting the urge to negotiate separation rituals.  Young children derive a sense of security when they are sure of the adult being in control.  Putting the power of separating into a child’s hands can make the process much more difficult for both parties and introduces confusion when a teacher may try to assist.  An invitation for another hug or just one more kiss becomes absorbed quickly into the routine itself.  Magda Gerber warmed “Be careful what you promise” as you will need to continue to provide for future experiences.  And when it comes to that final goodbye…

5.  saying goodbye and meaning it.  Don’t leave without saying goodbye and don’t say goodbye until you mean it.  It is better to interrupt a child who may have engaged with an activity or a friend while you were separating when you have to leave.  Otherwise, she may find herself at a loss looking up later to find you are gone.  When you do say “goodbye” mean it.  Leave. Yes, you can look back with a wave, but do not hesitate and do not return.  Allow your child to turn to his friends and teacher for support in moving forward in your absence.  He will learn that outside his family, you can always count on good friends.

Still not sure?  Give a ring if we don’t call you first.  With every “goodbye” comes a “hello.”

Coming to the Table

Admittedly, I was surprised to find myself sitting with a good-size group of interested and engaged parents last week for our adult educational offering geared towards developing an appreciation for healthy eating habits.  I’m not sure why… for generations food has connected communities.  Eating right supports not only our health physically and  cognitively, but also engages us cognitively, socially and emotionally.

Think back to the time when you were young.  Can you recall a favorite meal or dinner shared with family or friends?


Take a moment to recall the details of that time.  Can you remember who was there?  What they were wearing?  Sounds?  Smells? and, of course, tastes?

Mine was in the kitchen of South Carolinian home with my grandparents who often wintered with us.  I recall my grandmother standing near the stove- my grandfather at the counter behind her.  “Stir the dough 200 times,” she would say.  He would count them off in Hungarian.  Just home from school, I sat at the kitchen table watching as she prepared my father’s favorite cookies- peanut butter.  As the end of the day approached, the kitchen filled with the smell of fresh baked cookies.  I can still see in my mind’s eye how my dad’s face lit up as a child’s when he caught the scent upon walking up the drive.

Few memories imprint on our memory more deeply than those experienced in early childhood.  Fewer, still, have more meaning that those surrounded by food.


Consider the first born baby arriving completely dependent on others for survival.  Almost helpless in every other way,  the infant breast walks to her mother’s nipple, latching on.  Even her eyesight is limited- a newborn is only able to see from her mother’s bosom to her face facilitating attachment.  One might argue even that the attachment and bonding connection equal in importance to food, water, and shelter in one’s hierarchy of needs.

Maybe that was why the evening’s adult education class was so well received.

As we sipped on our wine and snacked on the offering of fruit and cheese, we shared some of our wishes for mealtimes together.  We shared a concern of the growing pressures facing parenting in the Information Age.  We questioned our ability to balance our child’s need for independence and our need to get the job done.  We wondered what to do when our child refuses to sit during meals.

And then we talked about all the wonderful things that transpire when we do all come together as a family to leisurely share our dinner, our day, our ideals.


At the center, we share the same value of  a shared community meal. Inspired by  Slow Food, teacher and child come together daily to prepare and partake of an organic, minimally processed lunch.  As children learn to sit up on their own, grasp a spoon, or set a table, their involvement with the mid-day meal deepens, expectations adjust, and the environment changes in support of their growth and development.  From infancy through Kindergarten, we take the moments we nourish our bodies as an opportunity to refuel our relationships.  But it’s not always easy.

At school or at home, getting a child to come to the table and actively participate involves:

1. having the adults involved with mealtimes to come together first in defining their goals and expectations, remembering to revisit these ideas every so often as your child grows and develops,

2. defining the eating area- at every age, especially infants- and preparing the environment in a way that is comfortable and free from distractions for each of the members who will be sharing the experience together,

3. including the child in the preparation and transition of coming together at their developmental readiness, and most importantly by

4. cultivating within yourself a love and appreciation for the many ways food nourishes our body, minds and souls.

Just watch as these very young toddlers share a meal together with their primary Educarer.

When cultivated early, an appreciation of feeding our minds and souls while we nourish our bodies will serve as the foundation for your child’s future relationships with her body and with others.  These moments remain with us throughout our lives.


Our favorite resources:

Super Baby Food, Ruth Yaron

Come to the Table: A Celebration of Family Life, Doris Christopher

These RIE Resources, Magda Gerber

Toddler Eating Issues, Janet Lansbury

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Mid-way into the school year happens to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Not only because it coincides with a wealth of festivities of cultural celebrations much of December and January, but it also traditionally marks the time of year when the Kindergarten students in our primary environment cement as a cohesive unit.

In transition from one developmental plane to the next, the group dynamics and needs flux on a daily basis.  Socially, the older children clump together- often times seemingly working on top of each other, even.  They move as a pack and towards the end of the year can resemble a herd of young buffalo eager to venture out into the open plains.

Before venturing out, however,  the group  fine tunes the skills necessary to manage themselves  successfully.  For example, take a peek outside my office door as they gather for an impromptu card making activity.  With only one glue stick, a handful of crayons, and a finite supply of paper , seven of the Kindergarteners assess the situation and fall into place.

Many have been surprised to find a group of this size and age in such close proximity able to negotiate, resource, and manage an activity without adult direction.  You’ll notice on two occasions, a teacher come into proximity to check in and, upon seeing that she was not needed, move on allowing the group to continue initiating its activity.

Each child stays on task concentrating on the product at hand while also engaging with his peers to share a story, ask for help, or contribute ideas.  Verbally and non-verbaly,l boundaries are respected allowing for free movement and a fluidity in the activity.  All along, one has the feeling that each participates intrinsically, engaged in body, mind, and in joy.

For the Montessori Guide- being able to witness the coming of the social cohesion (our “product” from years of “process”) provides the impetus for our work.

My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding from secondary school to University but of passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity and effort of will. -Dr. Maria Montessori