Generally, infants and toddlers were supported in well-designed learning environments and by warm and nurturing relationships with adults in the service. This support reflected a strong focus on wellbeing and belonging for these very young children.
Just over half of services supported infants and toddlers well and promoted positive outcomes for these children. These services not only focused on wellbeing and belonging, but also on supporting children to be communicators and explorers. Services’ curricula were based on children’s interests and their parents’ aspirations, and children’s learning was shared with parents. Assessment information also informed deliberate teaching practices that meant infants and toddlers continued to learn and develop as communicators and explorers. Teachers reviewed and reflected on their practice and considered the impacts on infants and toddlers and how they could improve teaching and learning.
However, these good practices were less evident in almost half the services in this evaluation. In less responsive services, although teachers maintained an appropriate focus on children’s wellbeing and belonging, they struggled to encompass the communication and exploration strands of Te Whāriki in their curriculum. Teachers in these services had a more limited understanding of Te Whāriki and teaching practices specific to infants and toddlers. Teachers needed to extend their knowledge and understanding of current research, approaches and philosophies to provide a relevant and responsive curriculum for toddlers, particularly two-year-olds.
For infants and toddlers, high quality education and care is critical during this fundamental period in a child’s development. 1 While teachers often knew children well, the curriculum was not always responsive to infants’ and toddlers’ strengths and interests. In addition to this, much assessment information did not identify children’s progress or the increasing complexity of their learning and development.
The quality of the transitions for toddlers from spaces for up to two-year-olds to spaces for those over two was of particular concern. Infants often had key teachers who knew them and their families well. This meant the curriculum and interactions were responsive, and relationships were warm and nurturing. However, in many services transitions were not as well supported by nurturing key relationships or a responsive curriculum.
For infants and toddlers to be competent and confident communicators and explorers, leaders and teachers need to give them opportunities to improvise, randomly explore, compromise, negotiate and be playful. When children choose their own activities, they are more likely to be closely involved and to ask and follow up on their own questions or the questions of others. 2 Children need to develop the expectation that communication can be a source of delight, that there are multiple ways of expressing ideas and feelings, and to learn to interpret others’ ideas, feelings and actions. 3
ERO has identified next steps for services to help them better support infants and toddlers to become competent and confident communicators and explorers.