Author Archives: Dawn Johnson

How to Promote Learning with Infants

by Dawn Johnson,  former Paths to QUALITY Coach with Infant/Toddler Emphasis

A lifelong love of learning starts from the earliest moments. Babies love sharing time with their parents or primary caregivers (at home and school) and some babies love to spend time with other babies. Providing a safe, nurturing environment for babies (including positive language) will help develop a love of learning (oh, and build the brain—did you know that by age 3, 80% of an infant’s brain is wired?). When children have a strong desire to learn from the prewiring done from birth to age 3, the brain development will increase to 90% by age 5 AND, will have a stronger chance of staying wired through active learning experiences throughout life.


Please note infants learn through total sensory integration. The more senses the baby can use to learn about the object, the easier it is for the baby to retain information about the object.


Get a large block of clay from an art store, leave whole or cut in half, put on a sheet of plastic or canvas, add a bit of water and let infants explore! You might need to show your baby it’s ok to touch the clay. While he or she is exploring the clay, you will want to talk about what is happening. “You are touching the clay, and it’s smooth. What do you think about it? Can you poke the clay?”


Cloth strips can be used to weave in and out of a laundry basket (you might do most of the weaving and the infant most of the removing!), for a game of peek-a-boo, to fill and dump from a bucket, as something to hold or chew on. You will find that some children prefer cotton over satin or fleece over Sherpa.


Infants love to hear your voice and they develop a love of math through rhythm and rhyme. While singing with infants, move your head or body to the rhythm, hold the babies and dance with them, clap your hands, pat your legs, etc.


Small balls, bumpy balls, squishy balls, large balls, any and all balls provide so many opportunities for learning! Even our youngest infants can watch balls roll or bounce. Infants will hold, drop, lick, throw, bounce, and crawl after balls. Balls provide opportunities for new vocabulary and multiple opportunities to talk about math and science—colors, size, what’s in the ball, why does it bounce, why does it roll, etc. Adults can describe the balls and ask inquiring questions about the balls.


Infants want to play with YOU! You have fingers, toes, shirts, pants, shoes, hair, eyes, mouths, etc. Infants want to touch you and hear you and play with you. The best thing you can do with an infant is provide the infant with unconditional love and attention, be on the babies level, talk with baby all day, sing with baby, take baby outside and let baby touch the grass, feel the breeze, hear the birds, smell the fresh scent of rain.

Cover image by Flickr user Dean WissingCreative Commons license.

What to Look for in an Infant Room

by Dawn Johnson, former Child Care Answers QUALITY Coach

Every parent’s worst fear is leaving their child with an unsafe child care provider. Just looking around the care provider’s room can give you insight into how safe your infant is and the quality of care they will be receiving. A few things to observe and evaluate are your child’s caregivers, the quality of the room, toys and supplies in it, and the importance your child’s center places on parent communication and family engagement.


Excellent infant caregivers will be constantly engaged with the infants both physically and verbally. Infant caregivers should spend the majority of their day sitting or lying on the floor with the infants, talking about the infant’s actions “You have the measuring cup in your mouth. It is metal. How does it feel/taste?” and talking about what is happening around them “Aiden is reaching for your hand.”

You should hear the caregivers announce what is coming next, “I’m going to wash my hands and get your bottle warmed up” or “You’re bottle is ready, and I’m going to pick you up so we can wash your hands”. You might also hear a caregiver respond to an infant’s cry with reassurance when involved in a caregiving moment with another infant, “I can hear you crying, you are safe. I am feeding Sam right now and will feed you next.” The caregivers should be aware of each infant and available to meet each infant’s needs by placing themselves near the infants and engaging with the infants.


Here’s a short list of items that compliment an infants’ explorations:

  • Shatterproof mirrors
  • Balls
  • Items to grasp such as rattles
  • Items to chew on such as teethers
  • Blocks
  • Measuring cups
  • Buckets
  • Items to fill buckets that cannot fit in baby’s mouth
  • Sturdy furniture to pull up on and cruise around
  • Books that represent the routines in their world
  • A variety of colors

These items are open ended and allow for infants to begin problem solving. None of the items should be broken or hazardous to infants.


Each infant’s family should be represented in the room through photos, favorite books, songs, and culture. Photos might be found on cribs, in photo books, on the floor, on walls or shelves-anywhere that the infant might be able to see the photo. We also hope that when possible, family members will stop by the room or stay for a few minutes at drop off or pick up to show the infant that the infant room is a safe place for exploration.

Although there is an endless list of things a parent should look for, this is a good start to feeling comfortable with your infant’s care provider. If any of these things are missing in your infant’s room, talk to a teacher in the room to express your concerns. If you need help finding high-quality infant care need you, Child Care Answers can help. Their Child Care Referral Specialists can be reached at 1-800-272-2937.

Cover image by Flickr user Anthony DoudtCreative Commons license.