Up Ways of Helping Infants Grow
early childhood development is scientifically acknowledged as
the most important factor in a person’s later quality of life.
Yet, at the same time, it’s also the part of growing up that receives
the least amount of professional care and attention in our society.
“In our society, there are still all too many people who are willing
to spend more money on someone taking care of their dog than taking
care of their young child,” said Amy Flynn, Director of the Bank
Street Family Center. “It’s infuriating and ridiculous. But it’s
To help change this, the Bank Street College Infancy Institute
held a three-day seminar, aimed at helping caregivers outside
the home to understand the array of issues affecting toddlers.
all too little education out there about raising infants,” said
Dr. Nancy Balaban, the Head of Infant and Parent Development at
Bank Street. “and that’s especially true as to education related
to and based on developmental principles. That’s the type of help
this conference aimed to provide to caregivers.” And the over
250 attendees from 13 different states and three countries indeed
learned about quality care, health and safety issues, working
with the whole family and learning methods. Beyond the basics,
the Conference also stressed an overall “whole child” approach
by addressing emotional, social, physical and intellectual issues.
There was also an emphasis on cultural awareness. “We must work
with each individual family and incorporate into their way of
doing things,” said Amy Flynn. “Even as professionals, we can
always absorb and learn. And we must keep in mind that there’s
always more than one way of doing things right.”
I do is cultural, including the way I care for children and teach
other people care giving skills,” said Janet Gonzales-Mena, a
teacher and writer and the Conference’s Keynote Speaker. “For
families whose culture is different from the prevailing dominant
one, child care can have enormous implications for the identity
development of their children.”
To this end, the Family Center has a 5-7 day phase-in period during
which parents come in and take care of their children within the
confines of the Center. “We study the way they diaper their child,
the way each parent sings to them, puts them to sleep, or uses
the bottle,” Flynn said. “Then, following discussions, we try
to incorporate their ways into our way of taking care of the child.
We try to consider the cultural context before we make any decisions
with each child.”
Another essential issue is the interaction between the learning
child and his or her physical environment. “Singing and Dancing
For Ones and Twos,” a workshop held by Bank Street music specialist
Betsy Blachley, gave caregivers valuable pointers on how to use
music to engage and teach toddlers both linguistically and physically
through music. “Group time” connected song and movement organically,
taught strategies of putting together medleys that turn into dance
games, and encouraged caregivers to make up songs and switch lyrics
at the spur of the moment.
Blachley explained how a ‘hello song,’ like “Hello Everybody,
Yes Indeed” at the beginning of a class can serve as an introduction,
a “way of getting comfortable by getting to know each other. But
change the words a little bit, and it can turn into a clapping
song, or a goodbye song to ease separation at the end of the hour,”
The “What’Cha Got Cooking?” workshop demonstrated how the mere
mashing of a potato or peeling of a banana enhances a child’s
sensory awareness, develops motor skills, and allows the toddler
to interact with the parent by exploring a part of the adult world.
“Children at a very young age basically interact with their environment
through sensory motor activities,” said teacher Debbie Silver.
“Cooking can be a real learning experience for a very young child
in so many ways. It takes the child through concepts of math,
sciences, language and different cultural heritages. Plus, they’re
helping mommy by doing something ‘adult.’ Cooking feeds into the
child’s need to explore, to ask questions and make choices, to
do things for him or herself, to feel powerful. And there’s nothing
on earth that could make a toddler feel better about himself and
the world.” #
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