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A Guide to Setting Up Environments
Infant/Toddler Caregiving


J. Ronald Lally
Jay Stewart

Developed by the
Center for Child and Family Studies
Far West Laboratory
for Educational Research and Development

for the
Child Development Division
California Department of Education



Publishing Information

About the Authors
Environments: Visions

Section One
Creating Environments for Infants and Toddlers—Key Concepts
   Child Size

Section Two
Planning Your Infant/Toddler Care Setting
   Environmental Needs of Different Age Groups
   Family Child Care and Center Care
   Division and Definition of Space

Section Three
Setting Up Specific Areas
   Entrance and Parent Communication Area
   Learning and Development Centers
   Peer Play Areas
   Multilevel Areas
   Rest and Sleeping Areas
   Toileting, Washing Up, Feeding, and Food Preparation Areas
   Storage and Shelves
   Outdoor Space

Practical Tips
Suggested Resources
Glossary of Terms

Publishing Information

Infant/Toddler Caregiving: A Guide to Setting Up Environments was developed by the Center for Child and Family Studies, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, San Francisco. (See the Acknowledgments on page vi for the names of those who made significant contributions to this document.) The document was edited for publishing by Sheila Bruton. working in cooperation with Peter L. Mangione, Janet L. Poole, and Mary Smithberger. It was prepared for photo-offset production by the staff of the Bureau of Publications, California Department of Education, under the direction of Theodore R. Smith. The layout and cover were designed by Steve Yee, and typesetting was done by Carey Johnson. Cover photo by Sheila Signer.

The guide was published by the California Department of Education, 721 Capitol Mall, Sacramento. California (mailing address: P.O. Box 944272, Sacramento, CA 94244-2720). It was distributed under the provisions of the Library Distribution Act and Government Code Section 11096.

© 1990 by the California Department of Education

ISBN 0-8011-0879-9

Ordering Information

Copies of this publication are available for S10 each, plus sales tax for California residents, from the Bureau of Publications, Sales Unit, California Department of Education, P.O. Box 271, Sacramento. CA 95812-0271; FAX 323-0823.

A list of other publications available from the Department appears on page 66. A complete list may be obtained by writing to the address given above or by calling the Sales Unit at (9l6) 445-1260.


At a time when half the mothers in this country are gainfully employed, most of them full time, more young children require care outside the home than ever before. The growth of child care services has failed to keep pace with the rapidly increasing demand, making appropriate care for young children difficult for families to find. Training is needed to increase the number of quality child care programs, yet the traditional systems for training child care providers are overburdened. In response to the crisis, the California State Department of Education's Child Development Division has developed an innovative and comprehensive approach to training infant and toddler caregivers called The Program for Infant/Toddler Caregivers. The program is a comprehensive training system consisting of a document entitled Visions for Infant/ Toddler Care: Guidelines for Professional Caregiving, an annotated guide to media training materials for caregivers, a series of training videotapes, and a series of caregiver guides.

The purpose of the caregiver guides is to offer information based on current theory, research, and practice to caregivers in both centers and family child care homes. Each guide addresses an area of infant development and care, covering major issues of concern and related practical considerations. The guides are intended to be used hand in hand with the program's series of videos; the videos illustrate key concepts and caregiving techniques for a specific area of care, and the guides provide extensive and in-depth coverage of a topic.

This guide was written by J. Ronald Lally and Jay Stewart. Like the other guides in the series, this one is rich in practical guidelines and suggestions. The information and ideas presented in this document are intended to help caregivers set up environments for infants and toddlers that promote young children's health, safety, and comfort, meet their developmental needs, and provide a comfortable and convenient place to work for the caregiver.

Deputy Superintendent
Field Services Branch

Child Development Division

Assistant Director
Child Development Division


J. Ronald Lally is the Director of the Center for Child and Family Studies at the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development in San Francisco. He also administers the Bay Area Early Intervention Program. Previously, Dr. Lally chaired the Department of Child and Family Studies at Syracuse University, where he was a full professor. While at Syracuse University, he directed the Children's Center and Family Development Research Program, which provided continuous support services for six years to 100 low-income children and their families. Dr. Lally and his associates conducted a 15-year longitudinal follow-up study of that program.

Dr. Lally is on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs and is on the national advisory committees for the Family Resource Coalition, the Ounce of Prevention Fund, and the Beryl Buck Institute for Education. He is an adviser to the Scientist's Institute for Public Information and to television and print media on child and family issues.

Dr. Lally has authored several books on child development. His most recent publication, coauthored with Peter L. Mangione and Alice Honig, is "The Syracuse University Family Development Research Program: Long-Range Impact of an Early Intervention with Low-income Children and Their Families" in Parent Education as Early Childhood Intervention: Emerging Directions in Theory, Research and Practice. He also edited and contributed to Infant/Toddler Caregiving: A Guide to Social-Emotional Growth and Socialization, a document of The Program for Infant/Toddler Caregivers.

Jay Stewart is an editor and free-lance writer. Much of her work has been in the fields of psychology and education. She has also contributed articles on mediation to the San Francisco Business Times.

Ms. Stewart has collaborated on books dealing with a variety of subjects, including cancer prevention and the needs of disabled children. She is currently working on a book on nutrition for cancer patients and editing a book on women's studies.


This publication was developed by the Center for Child and Family Studies, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, under the direction of J. Ronald Lally. Special thanks go to Louis Torelli, who was responsible for the selection and design of the illustrations, and to Peter Mangione and Sheila Signer, who played a major role in the writing of this document.

The developers are indebted to Joan Bergstrom, Jerry Fergusen, Jim Greenman, Anita Olds, Craig Ramey, Louis Torelli, and Yolanda Torres for their participation in intensive content interviews which greatly contributed to the content of this document.

Thanks are also extended to Janet Poole, Mary Smithberger, and Patricia Gardner, Child Development Division, California Department of Education, for their review of content and editing.

A special note of gratitude goes to the members of the California and national review panels. The California panel members were Dorlene Clayton, Dee Cuney, Ronda Garcia, Jacquelyne Jackson, Lee McKay, Janet Nielsen, Pearlene Reese, Maria Ruiz, June Sale, Patty Siegel, and Lenore Thompson. The national panel members were T. Berry Brazelton, Laura Dittman, Richard Fiene, Magda Gerber, Asa Hilliard, Alice Honig, Jeree Pawl, Sally Provence, Eleanor Szanton, Bernice Weissbourd, and Donna Wittmer.


When you walk into a quiet hospital room, you start whispering. But when you enter a crowded gymnasium to watch a basketball game, you have to yell at the person next to you to make room for you to sit. Your personality has not changed, but the environment has. How you feel, what you do, and how you respond all depend on where you are:

The environments in which people live and work convey messages about what is okay and what is not, what is expected or allowed, and what is encouraged.

Surroundings have a powerful effect on adults. The same is true for infants and toddlers—and the effect on children might be even more powerful. Babies who cannot crawl or walk are prisoners of the environments in which they are placed. Young infants cannot move to another room or rearrange the setting. They are stuck with seeing, touching, smelling, feeling, and hearing whatever is around them at the moment or tuning the environment out.

Infants and toddlers learn about and experience life through sense and motor explorations. They touch, taste, smell, observe, and move the world about them to make sense out of it. Children from birth to three years of age live directly through their senses. Adults, for example, have an image of how a chair should look and compare new chairs with that image. Infants form their images from their first contacts with their environment. Because of this effect, where the infants are placed has a tremendous impact. What they see, hear, taste, and touch create strong impressions. Who and how many people infants are with influence how they feel about relationships.

A child care environment is not neutral. It is one of the child's most valuable teachers. The space a child feels and moves in minute by minute and day after day is what introduces the child to the colors, shapes, smells, and sounds of the world. Infants and toddlers grow and learn by interacting with their environment, including people, and watching what happens.

As they explore, infants discover the effects of certain actions, such as:

Understanding and growth follow those discoveries; for example, pillows are soft and fun to fall on, but falling on the hard floor hurts.

Infants and toddlers build concepts based on their sense and motor explorations. For example, they learn the difference between wet and dry, soft and hard, rough and smooth, cold and hot, movable and stationary.

The floors, ceiling, lighting, walls, and furniture all contribute to the infants' and toddlers' education about the world. By interacting with their surroundings, infants and toddlers see their own abilities reflected in what they can do. Today the young toddler can take more steps; next the toddler can go from the couch to the chair. The child is not only mastering a new skill but also learning more about who he or she is and what he or she can do.

The environment also has power over you; the caregiver. A totally child-centered environment should not be your goal. An excellent setting for infant/toddler care accommodates the needs of the caregivers as well as those of the infants and toddlers. In contrast you may have the following problems with the environment:

You need a place that is comfortable for you and that supports your work. The caregiving environment must meet your needs and the children's, so both you and the children can relax and enjoy one another. In an interview for Beginnings (summer, 1984), Jim Greenman, an infant environment expert, stated:

"Infant and toddler rooms should spark the response: What a neat place to be a little kid! What a neat place to be WITH a little kid!"

How you make an infant care environment a "neat place to be" takes planning. Infants need to be cared for in places that are safe and interesting. The places should engage the infants' large and small muscles, captivate their senses, and activate their curiosity. The environment should also make the young child feel secure and free from danger. This document will help you promote those environmental characteristics. Each of the sections looks at environments from a different point of view and provides suggestions from that perspective.

Section One of the guide identifies and describes eight key concepts that need to be considered when designing any child care environment. These concepts allow you to look at the same piece of equipment or room arrangement plan from eight different viewpoints to make sure that the infants' best interests are considered. In addition to defining each concept, the section suggests practical steps that you, the caregiver, can take to improve certain features of the environment. Taken together, the eight concepts will help you focus on the whole environment and its overall impact on both adults and children.

Section Two considers those aspects of the environment that make each setting unique and suggests how to work with that uniqueness in environmental planning. The section provides a framework for looking at your own particular environment. Characteristics of environmental use that clarify the purpose, constraints, possibilities, and potential impact of an environment on infants, toddlers, and caregivers are discussed. Some of the characteristics are more obvious than others. For example, the age of the children in the child care program will make a difference. A related concern is the age composition of the group, whether children are grouped together by age, separate from other age groups, or mixed with other children of varying ages. Another obvious factor is whether the program is home based or center based. Among the more subtle influences of a setting is the location of pathways for movement. The potential location of open space in the environment and access to outdoor areas are additional considerations. Each setting and program is going to differ from the next in various ways. Section Two will help you carry out the special planning necessary to make the most of the environment for yourself and for the infants and toddlers in your care.

Section Three of this guide explores specific areas in the child care environment. For example, if you want ideas about how to set up the food preparation area, you can skip ahead to that topic in the section. There you will find detailed information on how to set up the area as well as information related to the area's impact on the eight key concepts described in Section One. In general, Section Three is rich in illustrations. Many of the ideas depicted in the illustrations are reinforced in the text and vice versa. Much of the detail in the third section is devoted to practical concerns; for example, what kinds of materials to use in building a small play structure or in creating a texture walk.

The guide closes with practical tips, suggested resources, and a glossary of environmental terms. Some of the tips are general and others are quite specific. Some refer to the whole environment, and others refer to a specific area. Many of the ideas presented are mentioned in other parts of the text. The practical tips provide additional detail. The list of suggested resources is included for people who would like additional information on various environmental topics. Because much of the terminology on the topic of environments is technical, the glossary is provided. It will help you find a definition of a term quickly.

The glossary also can be used as a learning tool. The definitions are extensive and often explain concepts and ideas with examples. For the reader who wants to become familiar with the terminology related to environments, to get the lay of the land so to speak, and who wants to pick up some interesting ideas along the way, the glossary is a good place to start reading this document.


The caregiver provides a safe environment to prevent and reduce injuries.


One of the most fundamental services for young children is to ensure the children's safety and well-being. The skills, knowledge, and attentiveness that caregivers need to prevent injuries and handle accidents appropriately cover a broad range of concerns. For example, indoor and outdoor areas need to be free of dangerous conditions and hazardous materials, such as tools, chipped paint, uncushioned surfaces under climbing equipment, exposed electrical outlets, medicines, matches, or unguarded stairways. Caregivers should know basic first-aid procedures, including how to assist a child who is choking; and they should maintain adequate first-aid supplies, a current list of emergency service phone numbers, and safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. Finally, the caregiver should know how to respond immediately and sympathetically to a child's injury and how to teach children about safety. In a safe environment children will learn gradually to protect themselves and to look out for others.

Young infants, because of their vulnerability and relative helplessness, must be attended to carefully to ensure their safety and security. The caregiver must pay close attention to a host of details—from making sure the crib rail is locked in its up position during a nap, for example, to keeping baby powder, ointments, and creams out of reach while diapering.

Mobile infants are changing each day. As their rapidly increasing motor skills lead them into new areas, adults must anticipate new hazards, being alert to the fact that they can move faster, climb higher, and reach things they could not reach only a few days before.

Toddlers are especially challenging. At the height of their exploratory curiosity, they are not yet fully aware of what activities are dangerous. While letting toddlers stretch boundaries and test their surroundings, adults must oversee that testing with a watchful eye and begin explaining in simple language the cause-effect relationships of safety precautions.

The caregiver promotes good health and nutrition and provides an environment that contributes to the prevention of illness.


Good health involves sound medical and dental practices through which adults model and encourage good health habits with children. Caregivers should be able to recognize common signs of illness or distress and respond promptly. Acute or chronic illness should be referred for treatment as soon as possible so that children can develop and take full advantage of the program. Children need a clean environment that is properly lighted, ventilated, and heated or cooled. Indoor and outdoor areas should be free of materials or conditions that endanger children's health. Care of the child's physical needs communicates positive feelings about his or her value and enhances the child's developing identity and sense of self-worth. Parents and caregivers should exchange information about the children's physical health frequently.

Providing young and mobile infants with affectionate and competent physical care includes responding to their individual rhythms while working toward regularity in feeding, sleeping, and toileting. It also includes sanitary procedures for diapering and cleaning toys that infants put in their mouths.

Toddlers imitate and learn from the activities of those around them. Good health habits can be established through modeling and encouraging toothbrushing, hand washing, eating of nutritious foods, and so on.

Learning Environment
The caregiver uses space, relationships, materials, and routines as resources for constructing an interesting, secure, and enjoyable environment that encourages play, exploration, and learning.


Children of all ages learn through their own experiences, trial and error, repetition, and imitation. Adults can guide and encourage children's learning by ensuring that the environment is emotionally appropriate; invites play, active exploration, and movement by children; and supports a broad array of experiences. A reliable framework of routines, together with a stimulating choice of activities and materials, facilitates children's learning. Thoughtful caregivers recognize that the learning environment includes both people and relationships between people and that attention to the way in which environments are set up and used is an important contribution to the quality of a learning experience.

Young infants begin to learn from their immediate surroundings and daily experiences. The sense of well-being and emotional security conveyed by a loving and skilled caregiver creates a readiness for other experiences. Before infants can creep and crawl, caregivers should provide a variety of sensory experiences and encourage movement and playfulness.

Mobile infants are active, independent, and curious. They are increasingly persistent and purposeful in doing things. They need many opportunities to practice new skills and explore the environment within safe boundaries. Adults can share children's delight in themselves, their skills, and discoveries and gradually add variety to the learning environment.

Toddlers are developing new language skills, physical control, and awareness of themselves and others each day. They enjoy participation in planned and group activities, but they are not yet ready to sit still or work in a group for very long. Adults can support the toddlers' learning in all areas by maintaining an environment that is dependable but flexible enough to provide opportunities for them to extend their skills, understanding, and judgment in individual ways.

These visions are excerpts from Visions for InfantlToddler Care: Guidelines for Professional Caregiving (Sacramento: California Department of Education, 1988), which outlines the visions or goals of The Program for Infant/Toddler Caregivers. The Safety and Health statements are excerpts from Vision VI, Safety, Health, and Nutrition, and the Learning Environments statement is an excerpt from Vision VII, Development of Each Child's Competence.

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