A year ago, we had baby Grace start in our centre and this was the beginning of a massive learning curve for both us as educators and our tamariki and over the past year we have seen some major shifts in our practice and in the relationships of our infants and toddlers and our older children
Grace was 15 weeks old when she started at Our Kids and as this was the youngest baby we had had at this point, our children were naturally curious about her and her space. Our children would love hanging out with Grace, exploring her toys, touching her or talking to her and both staff, and Grace found this a little over whelming as we felt as through we continually needed to be with Grace to ensure that she was safe. As Grace grew, and we started getting more infants into the centre,I feel that our teachers relaxed a little and were able to teach our tamariki about respecting our infants and their spaces. We encouraged our children to speak softly and quietly when in our baby area, we encouraged them not to touch the faces or heads of our infants and to respect their space. We often over heard conversations between children where they would explain to each other how important it was to give the infants space, if they heard them getting upset when they were surrounded by a group of children and they would remind each other not to touch their hands or faces. We found that our infants began enjoying these interactions and their faces would light up when they saw a child approach their space. Because of the shift in these relationships, we were actually able to open up our baby space, rather than have it barriered off so that our infants could openly explore the environment, and our older children could come into their space and spend time with them, respecting that this was their space.
The tuakana–teina model
“From the older sibling the younger one learns the right way to do things, and from the younger sibling the older one learns to be tolerant”
How this works in our setting?
Our infants and toddlers look up to our older children often seek them out when they are needing support. Little Juno, is learning to stand and will often put her little arms out to seek support in standing from our older children and while they are more than happy to support, they now know how important it is to encourage Juno to stand, rather than assisting her to do so however, they are developing the understanding of when they are able to jump in and help an infant or toddler and we have witnessed many moments where our older children will open something at the lunch table, or offer a cuddle when someone is crying.
Having always worked in centres where children were in separate age grouped rooms, a mixed age setting took awhile for me to get used to and as a mother whose children were mostly separated into different rooms I can see what benefits this has for siblings and children of all ages and I have been amazed by how wonderfully this works.