For every child, even returning children, the first days of the academic year in September are filled with new experiences, new people, and new expectations. For each child, we try to make this adjustment period as smooth and comfortable as it can be. It serves as a foundation for a positive and fruitful year at the CFC, and for future transitions as well.
Helping children to form new relationships and say good-bye to their parents is a key component in the program. For this reason, we ask parents to spend time with their child at the CFC during the first weeks each year, helping their child to establish trusting relationships with their new teachers. During this phase-in period, children come in small groups for increasing periods of time until at the end of the phase-in, they are staying for the whole day. Parents spend time in the classroom playing with their child, assisting their child with daily routines, and helping the child establish relationships with the teachers. For the infants and toddlers, while the parents are still caring for the child in the room, teachers will observe and ask questions to enable them to continue a consistency of care after phase-in is over.
For all the children, the amount of time that parents will be required to stay in the room depends on the child’s own temperament, development, previous experience with child care and the parents’ feelings about leaving their child at the CFC. Some children may be excited by the newness only to need extra support later as they try to settle into the day-to-day routine of life at the CFC. Others will stick close by a parent for a long period before beginning to explore the room or meet new people. Still others cheerfully say good-bye (perhaps even before Mom or Dad is ready) and grow steadily more comfortable as time goes on. As time at the CFC increases, parents leave for short periods of time, gradually extending the time the child spends at the center without them.
Primary Caregiving for Infants and Toddlers
Each infant and toddler’s family is assigned a primary caregiver at the beginning of the year in September. This teacher-caregiver carries out most of the daily routines with the child (eating, sleeping, diapering or toileting) and is responsible for building a particularly close relationship with the family and child. Some children continue to need their primary caregiver throughout the year, while others become more comfortable with all the teachers in their group, and eventually in the whole center. Children’s individual styles of interacting and coping are respected. The level of consistency and predictability that a child needs to feel safe and comfortable will be met by the teachers.
10 Rooms for Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers
We have two infant rooms, four toddler rooms and four preschool rooms at the Child and Family Center. For our purposes, an infant is any child from three to 11 months old, a toddler is 11 to 32 months old and preschoolers are three and four years old. There are eight infants, 10 toddlers, 15 three year olds, or 18 four year olds in a room.
We use mixed-age groups where we can: In toddler rooms the children are one and two years old. In preschool rooms, children may be two and three or three and four. There are social and intellectual benefits to having mixed age groups. Older children often are helpful to younger children. For an older child who has difficulty with accepting limits, they may be easier to accept when helping a younger child. Less outgoing older children can feel safer interacting with younger children, solidify social skills and then feel more comfortable with age mates. Younger children, of course, have the older children to emulate. In addition, research shows that children can adapt their language to different people. In a mixed age group children have the opportunity to sharpen their communicative skills when they have to deal with people with varying verbal skills. Younger children have the opportunity to observe and participate in more complex play when they are grouped with older children.
Many of the children at the CFC have the opportunity to spend two years in one room. This provides them with the experience of first being the younger and then the older child in the group. Also, for the teachers, when the group is made up of children with different ages as well as the natural differences in abilities, it is even more obvious why teachers have to consider each individual child in their planning and it can be more intellectually stimulating.
Inclusion of Children with Special Needs
The Child and Family Center welcomes children with special needs. Several children each year work with a speech and language therapist, physical therapist (PT), occupational therapist (OT), counseling therapist or special education itinerant teacher (SEIT). The goal of the specialists is that the child is fully integrated socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually in the room. The specialists may work with the child in his or her room or may bring the child out of the room to work individually or in a small group. We work with and guide parents to have an evaluation and get services when there is a concern about their child.
Discipline is a multifaceted term. Parents and teachers frequently talk about and are concerned with the how, why, and when of setting limits and helping children to become self-disciplined. All these terms are interrelated and the CFC has a few guidelines for dealing with unwanted behavior that are in keeping with both our understanding of child development and our philosophy. We use a guide, “Love and Learn, Discipline for Young Children”, by Alice S. Honig (NAEYC, 1989). You can pick up a copy from the pamphlet pockets in the hall.
Children and adults at the CFC are never allowed to hurt themselves or others. We never hit children or use physical punishment. Young children don’t yet understand that hitting hurts, or that they should be “nice” or “polite.” They can learn that hitting, grabbing toys, throwing objects other than balls, biting, et cetera, are not allowed. Children are never removed and isolated from a situation with the expectation that they can reflect on their behavior. If a child does need to be separated from the group, he or she will be accompanied by an adult. An adult is always part of diffusing a negative situation and redirecting an activity. Setting firm, consistent rules helps to build a child’s conscience and self-control. The ultimate goal is self-discipline.
Outdoor Playgrounds and the Rockefeller University Campus
The Child and Family Center has three outdoor play spaces for the children with climbing equipment, wheel toys, big sandboxes, and outdoor building blocks. The children use the whole Rockefeller University campus all year around. In the winter it’s great to roll down a snowy hill and in the summer it’s fun to do it as well. The children become familiar, at a young age, with the outdoor and indoor art collection that the university is so fortunate to have. When the wonderful grounds are in bloom the children are there to smell the flowers (but we don’t pick them!).