Many parents need to think about how their baby is going to be looked after once they go back to work. Some will choose a Baby Room/Unit within an Early Years setting, either full or part time, depending on their needs. There is a greater choice of Early Years settings with Baby Units now than ever before. This is good news for parents – but what do you look for in a baby room as a parent? And as practitioners are we sure that we are doing the best for the babies in our care – or are we stuck in a rut?
I recently attended a seminar from Penny Tassoni entitled ‘Essential Learning Experiences In The Baby Room’ and once again Penny provided us all with food for thought.
How about these approximate statistics – hold on to your hats! If a baby is full time at a nursery it means they are there for around 180 hours a month. But say they’re not, say they are there part time – maybe that’s 100 hours a month? So how long is the baby going to be in the ‘Baby Room’ – do they start around 6months? 9 months? 12 months? When do they leave – usually when they’re 2 years old. Let’s assume that baby starts at 9 months, part time – then from the ages of 1 – 2 years the hours are increased a little while Mum increases her working hours (this has been a regular pattern in the nurseries I have worked in) so that means the baby has been in the baby room for around 2,500 hours! That is a crazy amount of time – are we making every hour count instead of marking time? Is every hour valuable for the children in our care? Is it valuable to us?
How many actual ‘rooms’ does a baby unit consist of? I’ve done a lot of agency work as bank staff and have seen many Baby Units – I would say the average is two rooms that the babies actually go in (one of them they might just sleep in), maybe three if you include the toilet/changing area. That’s not many rooms in which to experience 2,500 hours, is it? Particularly if compared to their own home, which might have at least four rooms, with different coloured/textured floors and ceilings and different things to look at in each room.
What am I trying to get at here? What’s my point? My point is this, in settings we need to make sure that babies are getting enough stimulation, enough change to provoke development. We all know that the first years of a child’s life are so vitally important for development – it’s when all those neurons are connecting in the brain, making pathways that will shape their thinking and skills. The neurons are stimulated by sounds, sights, speech, colour, shape, feel, music, nature, smell – the list is endless. We need, as practitioners to make sure that babies are getting that necessary stimulation.
Of course, there is a fine balance to be struck between stimulation and the very important routines of baby’s environment. Routines are very important feeds/meals/snacks/sleep/changing/toiletting … these routines form the timetable of Baby’s day. But we can mix it up a bit – does the baby always eat from a plastic spoon? (how about trying a metal one every now and then?) Are the highchairs/tables always in the same place? Do the staff in the baby room wear the same uniform/tabard everyday? (There will not be any different fabrics/textures/patterns for them to look at and feel). How about wearing different tabards each day – with different textures and patterns. The children will spend a lot of ‘contact time’ with you holding them. They will be able to see different colours and shapes, feel different textures – more stimulation for them.
We all understand that outside play is important, that being outside is important – but do the babies do the same thing every time? Is there enough to do, appropriate resources for them? Do you go on regular outings/walks? Do you go outside enough?
Then there are the vital baby room staff. The most important part of a baby’s day is human contact and if staff aren’t stimulated, how can babies be stimulated? What do you do as a staff team to keep energised, engaged and engaging? Do you spend a lot of time sitting on the floor talking to each other, are you interested and engaged with resources – if you’re not, how are you going to pass on any interest or engagement to the babies? If staff actually enjoy the toys and resources, they will be far more likely to do a good job with them.
5 questions for practitioners to ask themselves about the Baby Room
- Are we ‘mixing it up’ to create stimulating experiences whenever possible?
- Do we have the opportunity to choose resources that we enjoy and can use well?
- Do we go outside enough and is it quality time when we do?
- Do you allow time for discussion with parents, for example, at dropping-off and picking-up times, so allowing a culture of informal information sharing to develop?
- Are children and staff happy and occupied?
5 things for parents to look for/ask about the Baby Room
- Are staff engaged with the babies? (talking to them/interacting/holding them)
- Is the baby room bright, interesting – and changed often?
- Is it a warm, friendly atmosphere with welcoming staff?
- Are the children happy and occupied?
- Are the toys and rooms clean?