Infants and Toddlers
Baby Play Supports Infant and Toddler
Social and Emotional Development
1, 2, 3
Twenty-month-old Sophia moves close to Miss Kaleigh, who is feeding peaches to 9-month-old Carlos. Sophia observes the interaction for a few minutes, then asks, “What are you feeding Baby Carlos?” Miss Kaleigh answers her question and asks Sophia if she would like to try feeding him. Sophia nods and goes to wash her hands, as the teachers do before feeding the infants. Sophia returns with a wet cloth and explains that it is for Baby Carlos if he gets messy. Then Sophia begins carefully feeding Carlos. She crouches and asks in a soft voice, “Baby Carlos, want more food?” Carlos smiles and laughs as Sophia talks to him and feeds him. When she places too much food on the spoon, Miss Kaleigh suggests she put just a little bit on, and Sophia says, “Oh, yeah, me try again.” Once she finishes feeding Carlos, she picks up the cloth and gently wipes the excess food from Carlos’s face. “There go. All clean! Was it good?” Carlos kicks his feet and squeals in his seat. Sophia turns to Miss Kaleigh and reports, “Baby Carlos liked it. He ready to play.”
Photos courtesy of
ophia is part of an infant and
toddler mixed-age classroom. One of
the benefits of a mixed-age grouping
is the support it lends to social and
emotional development. It expands
the younger children’s peer culture and social
experiences as they engage in more interactive
and complex ways with older peers. The extended
amount of time in the same space with the same
peer group offers these young children emotional
stability (New & Cochran 2007). Friendships
are sustained, and children develop cross-age
relationships much like family members take on
various roles within their social group. While the
help of the adult or teacher is important in sustaining these roles, the children are ultimately responsible for actively
constructing their own culture. Thus it is through social
interactions that young children acquire the skills needed to maintain relationships (Fernie, Madrid, & Kanter 2011).
Social roles typically emerge from children’s peer cultures and their individual interests, both of which change as children develop new skills and relationships. An infant
begins to develop an understanding of the classroom
routine and to regulate her responses to the new environment. One role of an older toddler, in the same respect, is to model the routines and expectations of the classroom
community. Therefore, as children become the oldest in the
classroom, their roles shift to become peer models for the
child’s understanding of the connections between self, others, and the environment.
The role of the classroom community
The school uses a play-based curriculum that emerges from
the children’s ongoing interests. This curriculum supports the developmental domains infants and toddlers progress
through—physical, emotional, social, motor, language and
communication, and cognitive, as set by the state and profession—and is inspired by the early childhood educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The curriculum embodies respect for
children’s capabilities and the importance of relationships, emphasizing the development of the whole child through
inquiry and active, authentic, and intentionally planned
The program serves children ages 6 weeks to 5 years.
Each of the two infant and toddler rooms has eight children
and three full-time teachers (two leads and one assistant).
The children spend a significant portion of the day freely
engaging in open-ended experiences. To further explore
Sophia’s social roles in the classroom, I concentrate on her engagement and ongoing interest in baby play.
What is baby play?
Sophia’s interactions with Carlos are part of an ongoing...
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