Cultivating Cooperation with infants and toddlers at home or in center base care requires an investment in time with focus on continuity in routines and relationships. Continuity being the cornerstone.
In center base care, continuity also being the crux.
Unlike its professional counterparts of the 1920s, the early childhood frontline caregiver remains underpaid, under supported, and under valued by the mainstream. As a result, continuity- keeping the early childhood professional happy, fed and resourced in the field- remains the number one challenge in center base care.
Yet, without a stable and reliable primary caregiver spanning the first two or three years, toddlers are less likely to spontaneously cooperate. Why is that important?
Cooperation demonstrates an individual’s sense of belonging to the group (society) by demonstrating that person’s desire to contribute to the betterment of her community. Along Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs, it smacks right at the center.
What does spontaneous cooperation in center base care look like?
Let’s take a look at a group of 8 Early Toddlers ranging in age from 13mths – 19mths as they come together to put on their shoes and venture outdoors under the guidance of their two caregivers. Warning: it’s an almost 10 minute observation, but I’ve had a hard time taking out even a minute, even those first few shoe chomping ones.
“Cooperation is an invitation; otherwise, it’s not cooperation.” -Anna Tardos
Remarkably, even though the door is wide open, each child chooses to stay with the group until all are ready. Although caregivers put shoes on a bit differently, the fluidity of the routine unfolds organically. Limits are tested, then reinforced. The children have free movement, are relaxed, and demonstrate cooperative gestures. At times the adult may need to break from the routine. Yet, she maintains a calm sense of order and control.
Do opportunities for improvement exist? Most certainly- to err is human. However, take a look a the intimacy in the relationship each child is able to enjoy nestled closely with his primary teacher who has been with him all of his infant life. Amazing to witness in center base care. Necessary for the toddler to cooperate without rewards or punishments on her compliance.
Given the time, commitment, and resources any early childhood center has the opportunity to cultivate toddler cooperations from the start- continuity being key.
What works- Small Group Size- children under two years of age should remain in group sizes no larger than eight. Even so, plan for times of the day where the child can break from the group individually and also in smaller groups of four or less.
What doesn’t work- Even an adult/child ratio relatively lower- for example 10 babies and 3 adults- can be less beneficial than a group size with a 1:4 ratio as the larger group overstimulates the infant brain.
What works- Primary Caregiving- dedicate one adult to be the primary caregiver for each child. She should have no more than four children under her supervision. As an advocate and resource to the parent, the primary caregiver should remain consistent over long periods of time.
What doesn’t work- Staggering caregivers or combining groups for before/after care to accommodate extended service times.
What works- Continuity of Relationships- keep the Primary Group of Four together with their Primary Caregiver as they transition through environments while in center base care. This means when a child develops the environment changes to meet that development rather than the child changes environments to meet the development. When transitions from one room to the next become necessary, the child moves with his Primary Teacher AND group of three friends. The longer the infant is with his friends and provider, the more likely he is able to be understood to get his physical needs met, feel safe and secure in a trusting relationship to explore, and then- feel a sense of belonging facilitating his cooperation.
What doesn’t work- Moving children up to the next level when they are ready physically or cognitively without considering his social or emotional needs. Severed relationships over time may inhibit the child from coopering in groups later on.
What works- Support the Early Childcare Provider with the time, resources, and salary enabling her to invest in her profession and be fully present to care for the well-being of infants and toddlers. We recommend the RIE® Foundations course as the precursor for this development. For those working in centers and institutions, Pikler® offers several advance training opportunities in the US and abroad.
What doesn’t work- Low pay, long hours, without opportunity for advancement results in a higher degree of teacher turn over.
What works- Share your experiences with parents. We’ve found coming together at least every quarter instrumental in developing consistency between home and center. A half hour in the morning every three months or so when parent, teacher, and child in primary groups of four connect is all it takes to pull the whole thing together. When parents have a sense of belonging with their center community the feeling is translated and absorbed by their child.