The Classroom with Infants

How do we show respect to the infants in our care? What behaviors support our beliefs of infants? Say, for a moment, that a parent was observing our work with young infants. How would they know that we respect young infants?

Infants explore so much of their world through movement. Their non-verbal expressions tell us about who they are, their needs, their feelings. We uncover so much about who they are simply by watching them. Before they develop [verbal] language we gather so much of our knowledge about a young infants needs and wants by listening to their cry and how they respond to the world.

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During the early years,  infants make sense of the world through their sensorimotor [sensory-motor] experiences, from the beginning each infant develops his or her own communicative dance to express how he or she perceives and experiences his or her surroundings.

As an infant moves from a lying to a sitting to a creeping and finally to a standing position, his perspective changes, as do his perceptions of the world and its possibilities.

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Movement is our first language from the day we are born. Thus, movement is very important for humans. We perceive and understand ourselves and the world around us first through the exploration of movements.

Dr. Tortora wrote in her book, Dancing Dialogue: “Babies first find out about the world and respond to it through their bodies, using their senses and movement sensations to explore. Without a verbal communication system in place, infants are first and foremost receiving information about the world through the stimulation of their senses. Movement and body sensations are among the primary modes from which babies receive information and communicate how they are experiencing this new world.”

I recall the first couple of days with my daughter Sophia [now six years old], so much was expressed by the way she moved, some of my behaviours at cultivating infant observation were very simple, they involved:

  • Pause for a moment in the room where she was playing.
  • Breath in and out to sense your breath in your body first. (Repeat a few times)
  • Open your chest and arms in an open position.
  • Watch with a curious mind how she plays whether from afar or near, standing or sitting.
  • Receive openly the movements she is doing, playing, eating, lying down…
  • Just observe and absorb the moment of the movements with a keen interest.

Becoming attentive to the qualities of a young infant’s non-verbal cues provides a window into the child’s experience, expression and development of she sense of self. To begin the journey…wait, watch, listen and quiet down within oneself. It was difficult for me at first to not interpret or question what Sophia was ‘saying’ through movement, but with practice I became more self-aware and not to judge or evaluate what she was doing, but rather to observe openly so a relationship could develop without expectations.

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According to Rebecca Anne Bailey and Elsie Carter Burton (1982), authors of The Dynamic Self: Activities to Enhance Infant Development, when- ever babies move any part of their bodies, there exists the potential for two different kinds of learning to occur: learning to move and moving to learn.

Experienced and responsive teachers focus on each individual infant, they provide a flexible and responsive environment designed to give infants the chance to move freely and explore his or her world. Soft mats and structures for crawling and gross motor development.

After writing this post on movement I can’ help but think of looking at infant environments as places where intimate, rhythmic exchanges occur.

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“People create their lives through relationships with others; development and learning take place through and for relationships.”

Infant classrooms gift infants freedom to move and explore as they are developmentally ready. Places for keeping non-mobile infants safe while they are lying on the floor, but allowing them to see and hear others in the environment as well as quiet spaces for presentations or independent activities are essential. The photographs above come from various inspiring infant classrooms, they convey a transparent message of open communication and belonging.

The Reggio Emilia system has become known to educators for the work and words of its founder, Loris Malaguzzi (1993), who spoke of “education as relationship.” He saw that children are forces who enrich our world by creating new connections between people, places, and things. Therefore, educators must treat them as people who are always interconnected with others and seeking participation in wider communities.

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Bailey, R.A., & E.C. Burton. 1982. The dynamic self: Activities to enhance infant development. St. Louis, MO: C.V. Mosby.

Malaguui, L. 1993. For an education based on relationships. young Children 49 (1): 9-12.

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