During his first 12 months your baby will go through astonishing changes. He will change from helpless and immobile to eating finger foods and crawling. The care he receives during these months of rapid change will impact his development now and in the future. Infants are not just smaller children; their needs are unique. A good infant care program understands this and includes a caregiver knowledgeable in infant development, providing age-appropriate activities in a suitable environment.The primary qualities to look for in the caregiver are warmth, responsiveness and flexibility. Your baby will feel safe and secure and learn to trust the world if his needs are met promptly, according to his individual schedule, not one imposed by the caregiver. Your baby's caregiver should interact with your baby in a warm and loving way. Look to see if she mechanically changes his diaper without speaking or looking at him. Preferably, she talks to him as she's changing him, explaining what she's doing, smiling, singing, speaking in a warm voice and making eye contact. This is important because everyday activities such as feeding and diapering provide learning experiences for babies. Playtime is equally important. It has a critical impact on your baby's physical, intellectual, social and emotional development. Babies learn through play. Caregivers should take time to talk, read and sing to your baby, and allow your baby opportunities to explore his surroundings. Babies learn when they have a chance to experience their world by seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and moving around their environment.
The physical environment should contribute to the quality interactions and safe exploration. Some key features to look for include:
* Enough caregivers to provide attention and supervision to each baby. Regulations vary from place to place, but the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends no more than 3 or 4 infants per adult and no more than 6 to 8 infants in a group.
* Because babies explore with their hands and their mouths, cleanliness is a top priority. Shared toys should be disinfected daily. Each baby should have his own crib and linens.
* Childproofing is essential. Look for cupboard locks, outlet covers, no dangling electrical cords or curtain pulls, and a sturdy changing station that can't be tipped over by another baby. Think about the childproofing measures you've taken at home, and look for the same and more at the child care program.
* Room to explore. The child care area should provide enough floor space for your baby to kick and wiggle on a blanket and eventually roll and sit and crawl and pull up.
* The environment should provide enough color and sound to stimulate your baby, but be wary of either too little or too much stimulation. Colorful decorations and children's music (both lively and soothing) add to your baby's daily experience.
* Toys should allow your baby to use his developing skills. There should be toys that baby can reach for and bat at and soft toys to practice grasping skills. Look for enough toys for everyone, toys that will challenge your baby at different stages, and safe, unbroken toys.
* Babies should be moved around during the day so that they have a variety of new things to see and hear. Avoid caregivers who have babies spend long periods of time in a highchair, swing, or crib.
This is a very brief description of quality infant care. Check with your local regulatory agency to find out what is mandatory in your area. But remember that what is required legally may not ensure high quality care. Regulatory standards are often the minimum standards; look for caregivers who go beyond the minimum and strive to provide high quality care.