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Infant/Toddler Caregiving
A Guide to Culturally Sensitive Care


Edited by Peter L. Mangione





About the Authors


Section One: The Importance of Culture in Early Development

Culture: A Process That Empowers
by Carol Brunson Phillips

Section Two: Multicultural Issues in Child Care

Cultural Sensitivity in Routine Caregiving Tasks
by Janet Gonzalez-Mena

Culture and Learning in Infancy
by Jayanthi Mistry

Concerns of Immigrant Families
by Alicia F. Lieberman

Section Three: The Process of Culturally Sensitive Care

Developing Culturally Responsive Caregiving Practices: Acknowledge, Ask, and Adapt
by Louise Derman-Sparks

Creating an Inclusive, Nonstereotypical Environment for Infants and Toddlers
by Louise Derman-Sparks

Supporting Staff Relationships in a Culturally Responsive Program
by Louise Derman-Sparks

Section Four: Suggested Resources

Appendix: Caregiver-Parent Information/Resources Forms


Families and communities are the ground-level generators and preservers of values and ethical systems. Individuals acquire a sense of self not only from observation of their own bodies and knowledge of their own thoughts but from their continuous relationship to others, especially close familial or community relations, and from the culture of their native place, the things, the customs, the honored deeds of their elders.

—John W. Gardner

"Community Culture. . . is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" (Tylor 1871, 1).

Through culture children gain a sense of identity, a feeling of belonging, and beliefs about what is important in life, what is right and wrong, how to care for themselves and others, and what to celebrate, eat, and wear. When children are raised only in their home culture, they learn those lessons almost effortlessly. When they spend some of their formative years in child care with people who were not raised in their culture and who do not necessarily share the same family and community values, the learning of those important early lessons becomes more complex. That is the condition that many young children are now experiencing in the United States. By the year 2000 cultural diversity in child care will be the norm.

Because child care is becoming more culturally heterogeneous, caregivers can no longer be expected "naturally" to provide care that is consistent with parental care. Child care programs are experiencing an unparalleled growth in linguistic and cultural representation among the families and children served; therefore, understanding the impact of the out-of-home child care experience and the child's home culture on a child's development is crucial. The program for Infant/Toddler Caregivers is particularly concerned about the impact of the situation onchildren under three years of age. Research and practice have shown that for infants and toddlers to prosper in child care, their experiences should reflect a sensitivity by the caregiver to the home culture. When out-of-home caregivers support the child's primary language and culture, they not only help the child develop but also open the child care program's doors to the child's parents and community. Early caregiving in a child's native language and within familiar cultural rules makes child care a secure and supportive experience for the child. Culturally sensitive care influences positively the development of self-esteem, social competence, language, and intellectual competence.

This guide is written to assist infant/toddler caregivers in becoming more culturally sensitive. It is intended to help caregivers (1) better understand themselves and how they are influenced by their own cultural beliefs; (2) better understand the children and families they serve; and (3) learn a process of relating to cultural issues that will help them become more effective caregivers. The entire guide is based on three unifying themes that are sounded throughout the text:

The guide is divided into four sections, including a suggested resources section. Seven articles written by experts in infant/toddler development, multicultural education, and cultural sensitivity underscore the need for cultural sensitivity in infant/toddler care. The contributing authors present information, strategies, and insights for caregivers working with infants and toddlers from culturally diverse communities. The authors share the belief that commonalities and differences are fundamental to all humanity and that cultural diversity brings a rich mosaic to life. The purpose of the guide is to help readers analyze their own culturally driven behaviors, expand their ability to accept children and adults as they are, and be more appropriate in their response to people from different cultures.

The first article, "Culture: A Process That Empowers," by Carol Brunson Phillips, provides an ethnographic and historical perspective on culture and the care of young children. The author identifies basic characteristics of culture and discusses the differing and sometimes conflicting norms found in multicultural child care settings. The article closes with a discussion of what effect the empowering role of culture has on early development and what caregivers can do to support empowerment through cultural experience.

The second article, "Cultural Sensitivity in Routine Caregiving Tasks," by Janet Gonzalez-Mena, examines the importance of ongoing and open communication between parents and child care providers. The author focuses on the caregiving routines of feeding, diapering/toileting, and napping to exemplify how established practices may come into conflict with the culturally based approaches of parents. An open attitude of respect is recommended in communicating with parents about routines in the child care program. Through understanding the cultural reasons behind caregiving practicesandpreferences,caregiversmayfindacceptablewaystoaccommodateparents'requests.

Inthethirdarticle, "Culture and Learning in Infancy," Jayanthi Mistry gives insight into how culture influences the learning experiences of children. She focuses on the style of interactions between adults and children who are members of the same cultural group. An appreciation of the differences in children's learning experiences will enable caregivers to be responsive to the interests and learning styles of children from culturally diverse backgrounds.

The fourth article, "Concerns of Immigrant Families," by Alicia F. Lieberman, deals with issues of stress and alienation that result when families are faced with immigration to a new country and possibly conflicting societal expectations in out-of-home child care. The importance of the relationship between parents and child care providers who differ culturally is underscored in this article, which also offers guidelines for dealing with recently arrived immigrant families.

The third section of the guide was written by Louise Derman-Sparks, who takes the reader on an adventure of self-evaluation, challenge, and professional cultural growth. Her three articles are relevant to the field of cultural awareness and sensitivity. Although it is not necessary to now everything there is to know about the cultures of the children with whom caregivers work, the process of acknowledge, ask and adapt challenges even most experienced caregiver to grow culturally. Through a process of thinking, writing, and evaluating, the reader learns concrete methods by which to identify, communicate, negotiate, and resolve issues of responsive caregiving.


Gardner, John W. 1991. "Community." Standford, Calf.: Stanford University.

Taylor, Edward B. 1871. Primitive Culture: Researchers into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom. Vol. 1 London: John Murray.

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