Connecting with Families in Infant and Toddler Programs
By Fran Bastion, and Reflections by Caitlin Burns (The Joey Club Sydney)
The privilege of being an infant and toddler educator requires a dedicated commitment to fostering authentic connection with children and their families. It requires divergent skills and intuitive and communicative competencies. It lends itself to being present, taking notice and keeping track of the unique details of each day. It is an intentional way of being that includes listening deeply to both the child and family, and honouring who they are, as they are. This practice of attentive presence guides our care and pedagogy, and creates opportunity for sustained reciprocal relationships.
Sometimes educators can approach this work with a broad speculation that we know and understand the implications for the children and families entering our space. When we meet an infant, toddler and family for the first time we want to be warm and welcoming, mindful of the intimate information we are wanting them to share. We must approach each child and family with a sense of wonder rather than a sense of knowing. We want to be inquisitive about life in context with family and community, we want to know about a favourite book, a special blanket, soothing words and gestures that define a bedtime ritual, a special game and familiar song. Sounds and touch, words and actions that will help ease the transition from home into a secure relationship with educators.
There is an imperative that this curiosity and wondering should continue to strengthen the relationship between educators, child and family as they grow. We can articulate the value placed on these stories shared by families by making them visible, encouraging each child’s sense of belonging in the service. Thoughtful attention to children’s interests, fascinations and growing relationships should be transparent in the life of the environment. Narratives shared through documentation, meetings and greetings as well as exchanges via phone and Storypark will also help consolidate connections. This is an invitation for involved adults to develop a relationship built on trust and as educators we must attune ourselves to listen and listen again for new insights and questions as things can change rapidly. If we create a culture nuanced by the vibrant exchange of stories and the nurturing of relationships, we enact a way of being that not only allows us to be more available for others but also promotes a self-awareness that will inform an intuitive, respectful and intentional infant and toddler pedagogy.
At The Joey Club Sydney, infant and toddler pedagogy is defined by a potent reciprocity and a commitment to the nurturing of relationships between educators, child and family.
"At The Joey Club Sydney, we hold a firm belief in the importance of actively building and strengthening positive partnerships with each family. Since opening our doors in 2003, we have spent almost two decades creating a collective pedagogical culture that prioritises open communication, genuine respect, and mutual trust with each family. As a result, the process of welcoming a new family into our service is not an undertaking that we take lightly. With each new enrolment, the educational teams in each of our four learning environments will work closely with a family as they listen actively and thoughtfully to the intimate information families choose to share with us. However, we have come to realise that our infant and toddler educational team hold a unique position of both responsibility and privilege in developing partnerships with families.
We recognise that for many families, starting their infant or toddler in an early learning setting is a milestone often fraught with understandable trepidation. And why wouldn’t it be? When leaving their child with us, families are hoping that this group of educators – whom they have known only a short while – will do more than just “take care” of their child; providing more than just the expected necessities related to their care routine. Instead, families are hoping that they and their child will feel a sense of warmth, trust, and responsive engagement that will be unique to their family’s identity. For this to occur, we understand that the onus is on us to create the space for this important partnership to not just develop, but flourish.
The impact of COVID-19 over the past 24 months has compelled us to think critically about the ‘taken for granted’ patterns of connection with families that has been part of our Nursery community. With concierge and social distancing becoming common practice, our approach to welcoming new families and working alongside them day-to-day has been greatly impacted. However, we remain resolute and encouraged by our collective capacity to be open and agile, able to build and strengthen partnerships with each and every family.
In early 2020 just prior to the pandemic, a new family was welcomed into The Joey Club infant community. They enjoyed an intimate orientation, many visits to the nursery space, lots of time building an awareness of the environment and getting to know educators who encouraged rich conversations about family, routines, rituals, expectations and learning potentials. A core value of The Joey Club is that every family will march to the beat of their own drum. Orientation visits are developed in a way that allows educators to become attuned to the rhythm of each family, designing a dance of reciprocity and respect. Our newly enrolled family grew in confidence and enthusiasm, eager to share and collaborate as much as possible. The team were most appreciative and humbled by their eagerness to invite us into their family and embraced every opportunity to work closely with them.
Then the landscape began to shift as risk minimisation strategies were implemented to tackle the trials of COVID. It became more and more challenging to connect with families and work alongside them in meaningful ways. For our very involved, enthusiastic family the covid restrictions meant much swifter drop -off and pickups and time for substantive conversation was compromised. Educators and the family made every effort to touch base using traditional methods like the phone and Storypark and then one day during morning drop-off, we were handed a small note from the father – our first ‘Love Note’ from home. This small note offered great promise. It was a note with a wonderful little message summarising their child’s latest routine adjustments, their latest accomplishments, and what they had done over the weekend. In response to this, we sent a little note back home that afternoon, which in addition to routine details, included the special details of their child’s day. In the weeks that followed, we continued to send these little ‘Love Notes’ back and forth, until we finally asked the family if they would like to start a ‘Book of Love Notes’. They of course jumped at the idea. Two years on, we have co-authored many editions of this book, which continues to document the journey of a unique partnership with this family.
It can be acknowledged that this strategy is not ground-breaking or pioneering. However, in its simplicity, it captures a genuine commitment to listening intently to families allowing them to take the lead and determine the dance. Creating space for responsive educators to welcome each child and family with a sense of wonder rather than a sense of knowing."
– Caitlin Burns ECT, The Joey Club Sydney
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR] (2009), Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia
Gandini L., Edwards C. (2000), Bambini The Toddler Approach to Infant /Toddler Care, Teachers College Press, NY
Petrie S., Owen S. (2005) Authentic Relationships in Group Care for Infants and Toddlers. Jessica Kingsley Publishers London and Philadelphia
Raikes H., Edwards C. (2009), Extending the Dance in Infant and Toddler Caregiving Enhancing Attachment & Relationships, Paul H Brookes Publishing Co, Maryland
Join us for The Life of Infants and Toddlers: From Theory to Practice 5-Part Series.