Physical Environment of an Infant Care Program (page 2)
The day in infant care is constructed around caregiving and caregiving routines. A typical infant care program would ensure there was a safe, clean environment for the caregiving activities of diapering, eating, sleeping, and playing. In the Mentor Graphics Infant Care Program, you saw a designated area for each of these activities. Supplies are stored so caregivers can access them easily, yet the items are out of reach of older infants who are mobile. Caregivers wash their hands frequently throughout the day and always after diaper changes and before meals and bottle times. Each of these practices leads to a healthy environment for infants. There must be health policies and procedures in place for caregivers to follow, both to protect the child and to minimize the spread of infectious disease. In addition, caregivers should be trained in pediatric first aid and rescue breathing (Lally et al., 2003).
Toys and other objects for play are placed in spots that infants can reach, whether on a low bookshelf or on the floor. Since infants learn much from sensory interactions, a variety of tactile, visual, and motor experiences should be available. Within the infant play room, various textures should be available for infant touching. For example, a rough texture from a Berber-type rug contrasts with a spongy texture from foam rubber balls. Infants need opportunities to touch, crawl on, and walk on many surfaces. Different textures within their environment provides for a variety of touch sensations.
Toys and furniture should provide for a variety of uses and be selected for durability, ease of cleaning, and interest to infants. Homemade toys can create as much interest as expensive toys. Kristine shared, "The clear plastic pop bottle half-filled with oil, colored water, and large buttons is a favorite of some of our infants. They can hold on to the bottle, bump it to make it roll, or grab it and shake it. Just make sure to check the tape around the lid often during the day!" Some toys are left in the closed cupboard and exchanged with other toys periodically. Sue explains, "Too many toys are overstimulating. It's better to have a few available at a time and rotate them every week."
In the play area, Luke enjoys the climbing ramp, which has three stair steps enclosed in a wooden structure. He likes to climb and crawl on this, as he attempts to reach the top step. Another favorite object is a long mirror placed low on the wall. An infant can lay on the pad in front of the mirror and watch himself. This provides visual and motor stimulation, as older infants attempt to touch the mirror when they recognize body parts such as their faces. Infants also respond to auditory stimuli. A tape of music or a caregiver singing a song provides an enjoyable experience. Some caregivers like to play quiet music to calm an infant or rhythmic music when the infant is alert and playful. Singing can be reassuring and soothing to an infant, as he listens to melodies and familiar words (Honig, 1995) sung by his caregiver. A variety of objects, such as soft balls, wooden blocks, rolling bottles, and larger play structures, encourage the infant to explore and learn within an interesting environment.
Infants are dependent on adults to create and maintain a safe environment. The entire center must be childproofed, infants must always be in sight of an adult, the floor space must be clean and free from objects that might cause harm, and safe objects must be available to touch and grasp (Segal et al., 2006). As infants become more mobile, the caregiver will also want to provide safe, low, sturdy structures for infants to pull up on and to climb on, such as the stair structure that Luke enjoyed. Safety is paramount to consider when assessing the infant care environment.
Just as a variety of objects within the infant care room create interest, so do a variety of surfaces. Different tactile surfaces, which might include smooth, hard surfaces (perhaps a tile floor) and soft surfaces (such as a pad where the infant lies when she watches herself in the mirror) provide variety. The quiet area might have dim lights, whereas the kitchen is bright. These differences in the infant's environment provide a range of texture, size, brightness, and color that stimulates sensory experiences.
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