Unformatted Attachment Preview
Curriculum and Lesson Planning A Responsive Approach J. Ronald Lally, Ed.D.
The Program for Infant Toddler Care
In the United States of America, we have related to infant and toddler development in a
peculiar way. We have practiced curriculum extremes. One camp feels that all infants
and toddlers need are safe environments and tender loving care and that intellectual
activities are unnecessary, while the other believes that infants need to be intellectually
stimulated by adult directed, developmentally appropriate activities in order for them to
grow cognitively. In many other nations this is not the approach taken toward infant
learning. It is understood that tender loving care is necessary, but that intellectual
development must be based on an understanding of each child’s innate motivation and
interest in learning. In these countries, curriculum focuses not on one pole or the other,
but on how to create a climate that supports child initiated learning. In Italy and
Germany, for example, caregivers study the children in their care, and keep detailed
records of their interests and skills so that they can facilitate the child’s learning. They
are trained to search for how to use the children’s natural interests and curiosity to lead
them to appropriate early lessons. A good portion of their lesson planning for infants
involves training caregivers to understand each infant and toddler’s development and
how to relate to it. It would serve us well if we learned from their approach.
American child care managers need to come to grips with the fact that much of what
they are requiring of their caregivers with regard to lesson plans is inappropriate.
Anticipating that the caregivers will need to adapt their actions to the momentary needs
and interests of each child should be an essential part of any lesson plan. Lesson
planning for infants, if done correctly, should first explore ways to help caregivers get “in
tune” with each infant they serve, and learn from the infant what he or she needs,
thinks, and feels. Secondly, they should include strategies to broaden the caregiver’s
relationship with each individual child. Thirdly, they should include a number of possible
approaches for relating to a child’s unique thoughts and feelings, meeting his or her
needs, and matching interest with activity. All components of lesson planning must
include adaptation of the plan and subsequent caregiver action to match the infant’s
Another critical planning component is the context of learning. Much of what infants
need is not the planning of specific lessons but a wise adult who can create a rich setting
for learning. Learning environments, and policies of care – the climate for learning, are
more important to infant development than specific lessons. Research has shown us that
much of what needs to happen with infants is not specific lessons but the preparation of
their caregivers to capitalize on natural learning opportunities.
A Responsive Curriculum
For the past twelve years, the Program for Infant/Toddler Caregivers has developed
video and print materials to assist center and family day care providers and implement
high quality infant and toddler care. We have developed strategies that help caregivers
read and respond to the intellectual, social and emotional messages of the infants in
their care and recommended policies that help programs focus on the importance of the
relationships between the caregiver and child, and the caregiver and family as the
foundation of good care. Our materials and approach have been used to train many
trainers throughout the country, who in turn, have trained thousands of caregivers. It
has recently come to our attention that help is needed in selecting curriculum and in
developing lesson plans. It is imperative that activities, environments, and interaction
styles are responsive to the needs of infants and toddlers, respect the competencies
infants and toddlers bring to each interaction, and reflect the young child’s need for
From all we know about how infants best learn, we have concluded that they must have
a hand in the selection of what they learn. Our approach to curriculum therefore includes
the infant as an active partner in the process of curriculum selection. In this way, it is a
curriculum that is responsive and respectful of what the infant brings to and wants from
each experience. This type of curriculum is different from most. It needs to be well
planned yet remain dynamic enough to move and flow with changing infant interests. It
needs to anticipate developmental stages but also needs to allow for individual
variations in learning style. It also must be broad enough in scope to respond to all
developmental domains simultaneously. For example, just because you think you are
teaching about object permanence it doesn’t mean that is what the child is learning. He
or she may be learning about the prescribed role in learning relationships.
In a responsive curriculum, a good portion of lesson planning has to do with preparing
caregivers and environments so that lessons can be learned. Implementation of
responsive curriculum involves training caregivers to understand and relate to infant and
toddler development generally and also specifically. Much of lesson planning explores
ways to help caregivers get “in tune” with each infant they serve and learn from the
infant what he or she needs, thinks, and feels. When this can be accomplished, often
lessons being learned become quite obvious. Yet even “in tune” caregivers need to plan
and re-plan how to form a relationship with, and best meet each individual child’s needs
and relate to that child’s unique thoughts and feelings. In a responsive curriculum often
the most critical curriculum components are not planned so that environments,
materials, group size and management policies don’t maximize the child’s sense of
security in care, and connection with the caregivers, promote a safe and interesting
place to learn, and optimize connections with the child’s family very little positive
learning will take place regardless of what lessons are planned.
Curriculum Planning: A Place to Begin
Because infants and toddlers have unique needs their care must be constructed
specifically to meet those needs. Good infant toddler care is not baby sitting and not
preschool. It is a special kind of care that looks like no other type of care. For it to be
designed well and carried out appropriately, lesson plans, environments, routines,
staffing, group size, relationships with families, supervision and training must have as
their starting point the following ten factors that differentiate infant toddler care from
the care of older children.
1. Infants and toddlers experience life more holistically than any other age period.
Social, emotional, intellectual, language, and physical lessons are not separated by the
infant. Adults who are most helpful to the young child interact in ways that understand
that the child is learning from the whole experience not just that part of the experience
to which the adult gives attention.
2. Between birth and age three a child goes through three distinct developmental stages
and the type of care given needs to change as the stage changes and also take into
consideration transitions between stages.
3. The infant is dependent on close caring ongoing, relationships as the source of
positive, physical, social, emotional, and intellectual growth. Infants develop best when
they are assured of having a trusted caregiver or caregivers who can read their cures
and respond to their needs. Infant toddler care policy must be organized to ensure that
these relationships exist and prosper. Policies that encourage and nurture these secure
relationships are the backbone of quality care.
4. An infant or toddler learns most of how he or she thinks and feels by imitating and
incorporating the behaviors of those around him or her. For this reason it is particularly
important that caregivers be carefully selected, and well trained.
5. Each infant is born curious and motivated to learn and actively participates in learning
each day. Caregivers need specific training in infant learning to understand how to read
and respond to infant behavior and to delight in the types of learning in which the
infants are motivation, experimentation, and curiosity alive and how to facilitate the
infant learning process.
6. All children come into the world temperamentally different than each other and
because of these differences they need to be treated differently by their caregivers.
7. Parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers often experience a heightened sense of
emotionality related to the care of the infants and toddlers. Strategies for dealing with
conflicts that can emerge from this “protective urge” must be considered as part of care.
8. Much of the first two years of life are spent in the creation of a child’s first “sense of
self” or the building of a first identity. Because this is such a critical part of a child’s
make up – how they first see themselves, how they think they should function, how they
expect others to function in relation to them – early care must ensure that in addition to
carefully selected and trained caregivers links with family, home culture, and home
language are a central part of program policy. If 4 care becomes a substitute for, rather
than a support of family, children will often incorporate a less than primitive sense of
who they are and where they come from because of their infant care experience.
9. The development of language is particularly crucial during the infant toddler period.
Good care provides many opportunities for infants to engage in meaningful and contextbased dialogue with their caregivers and to have the child’s communications
acknowledged and encouraged.
10. Infants and toddlers are strongly influenced by the environments and routines they
are subjected to each day. This is particularly true for very young infants who cannot
physically move themselves from a noxious to a more pleasant environment. Physical
environments, group size, daily schedules, lesson plans and the conduct of routines
must foster the establishment of small intimate groups in which relationships with
trusted caregivers can be established and have a chance to grow and become the base
for social, emotional and intellectual learning in a safe and interesting environment.
Developed by J. Ronald Lally. © WestEd, The Program for Infant/Toddler Care. This
document may be reproduced for educational purposes.