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    • Recognize family-centered practice as a key component of managing your infant and toddler classroom.
    • Learn how to be respectful and welcoming for infants, toddlers, and their families in your classroom and program.
    • Recognize the diversity of families.




    Welcoming Each Child and Family

    Where do you feel welcomed? What happens in a place that makes you feel welcome?

    Spend a few seconds thinking about the two questions above. Then consider all the things you do in your daily work to make infants, toddlers, and their families feel welcome in your classroom and program. How do you greet children and families in the morning and when it is time to go home? How do you ensure that infants and toddlers feel welcome, learn, and develop while having fun? How do you comfort them when they seem upset or miss their loved ones? How do you ensure that families feel welcome and supported?

    Successful infant-toddler providers create positive, welcoming environments for the children and families they work with and strive for excellence in their interactions with others. The most important aspects of your work are the relationships you create and nurture with children, families, and colleagues. As highlighted in several courses throughout the Virtual Lab School, relationships form over time and require ongoing effort and commitment. Collaborating with others is a big part of your work, and whether you are a brand new or a seasoned staff member, your success and effectiveness hugely depend on how well you work with others. Whether you are engaging with infants and toddlers, families, colleagues, or supervisors, nurturing these relationships early on is critical to your success.

    Infant and toddler development happens so quickly. When families and caregivers work together, communicate, and share what is observed and experienced, opportunities are created for better understanding and supporting this rapid developmental growth. Asking questions, communicating, and listening with families helps support continuity of care between home and the care setting.

    Understanding children and child development is absolutely essential in your role as an infant-toddler caregiver. The individual courses within the Virtual Lab School provide extensive information on each of the developmental domains (e.g., Cognitive Development, Physical Development, Social & Emotional Development) as well as strategies and practical ideas on how to promote optimum growth. You should refer to these courses for comprehensive information about infant-toddler development. Along with infant-toddler development, knowledge about topics such as Safe Environments, Learning Environments, Healthy Environments, Positive Guidance, Child Abuse, and Family Engagement will strengthen your competence and enable you to positively impact the lives of children and families you engage with. Optimum development is achieved when children in your care are healthy, emotionally secure, and socially connected. This development, however, cannot be achieved unless you put infants' and toddlers' families and home cultures at the forefront of your work.

    When engaging with families of infants and toddlers with special learning needs, you should work with your T&Cs and program directors to ensure that you have the resources and supports you need. You should work collaboratively with T&Cs, program directors, and family members to be sure that an infant’s or toddler’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) outcomes are addressed (if appropriate) in your classroom and program. Successful inclusion of children with dis/abilities requires careful planning, intentional teaching, and ongoing communication among all team members. As highlighted in Lesson Two in this course (Working as a Team), building collaborative relationships takes time and attention but has meaningful outcomes on your practice.

    You should work with your T&Cs and managers to ensure that families are welcomed and supported at all times in your classroom and program. Just as you care about how infants and toddlers in your care are welcomed, you have to pay attention to how families are included in your daily work, not only at drop-off and pick-up time, but throughout their child’s day. In doing so, consider the following:

    • Ask family members how they want to be involved and remind them that they are important to you.
    • Respect each infant and toddler in your care and their families and acknowledge diversity and individual differences in growth, background, values, and beliefs.
    • Share information with families about the work you do with infants and toddlers in your care and, if needed, explain why you do things a certain way.
    • Families can choose to be involved in various ways. For military families, it is critical to have flexibility in how they can participate.
    • When families volunteer to be in your classroom, they need to have clear directions and a purpose and to know what the expectations are for them.
    • Family members want to have meaningful conversations about their infant or toddler. Make sure you keep them updated about their child's growth regularly. Acknowledge all the great things infants and toddlers do on a daily basis and share those with their families often! Ongoing communication and collaboration benefits everyone.
    • All families have strengths and all families have challenges. Focus on each family's strengths and build on those.

    Introducing Family-Centered Practice

    Because families are central to their children's development, particularly when it comes to the early-childhood years, they are partners, active participants, and decision-makers in their children's education process. As a result, family-centered practice is considered one of the indicators of quality in early-childhood education, programs, and services. At the heart of family-centered practice is the belief that families are the most important decision-makers in a child's life (Sandall, Hemmeter, Smith, & McLean, 2005).

    Family-centered practice also means that you understand the important effect all family members have on each other and on the infant or toddler. Each family member affects the other and the ways that the family functions. All family members are interconnected. From our families, we learn skills that enable us to engage in school and the workplace.

    When considering family-centered practice, you are viewing infants and toddlers as part of a larger system; you are viewing family members as a whole. You become aware of and sensitive to the interactions and relationships taking place within the family, as well as outside interactions and supports that affect them. In an effort to maintain relationships and to work effectively together, you learn, respect and understand characteristics of each family and its support system. You can also consider the characteristics and stressors that may affect a family's involvement. What affects one family member can affect all family members. A family is a complex system in which no one member can be viewed in isolation.

    Throughout the Virtual Laboratory School, we consider family-centered practice as an umbrella term that encompasses the beliefs and actions of people in your program. Consider this table:

    Family-Centered Practice

    Family-centered practice is a set of beliefs and actions that influence how we engage families.



    Families are the most important decision-makers in a child's life.

    • We learn about families' ideas and preferences.
    • We provide choices in programming.
    • We involve families in program leadership.
    • We involve families in decision-making.

    Families are unique and their differences enrich our programs.

    • We honor and respect diversity.
    • We involve all the important people in a child's life.
    • We engage and involve families.
    • We develop responsive and reciprocal relationships.
    • We represent families in our programs.

    Families are resilient.

    • We learn about families' strengths, needs, and circumstances.
    • We connect families with resources.
    • We build families' strengths.

    Families are central to development and learning.

    • We share information with families.
    • We listen to families.
    • We view families as their child's first teacher.
    • We respect families' expertise about their child.

    Families are our partners.

    • We use respectful, responsive, and two-way communication.
    • We reach out to families.
    • We involve families in all aspects of our program.

    Making an effort to understand infants, toddlers, and their families can create opportunities for you to better support the infants and toddlers in your care.

    Family-Centered Practices

    Watch family members share how their children's programs are welcoming and supportive.

    Honoring Diversity in Families

    Some very important learning in the first three years of life relates to culture. Infants and toddlers learn new words, ways of interacting with others, how to communicate, and how to play - all things influenced by culture. Culture refers to the shared experiences and history of different groups of people. Cultural differences may include differences in views of family and community, expectations of children, roles of parents, and value placed on education.

    Culture is a significant factor in the ways families raise their children and how you, as a caregiver, provide care for infants and toddlers. Examine your own cultural experiences and consider how these experiences affect your practice with infants, toddlers, and families. Each caregiver brings specific values, beliefs, and assumptions about child rearing and development to her or his work. In almost every type of child-care routine you perform, your values about it were shaped by your childhood and training. As you work with infants, toddlers and families, it is important to recognize your values and beliefs and the ways in which they are communicated. For example, a parent might expect a toddler to begin using a spoon and fork around age 3, when you might expect this behavior around 20 months.

    Sometimes, you might feel unsure about how to care for an infant or toddler or how to engage families who have very different experiences and cultures, including those who speak an unfamiliar language or who have unfamiliar religious customs. You can acknowledge differences and demonstrate an interest in the family in an effort to build relationships and learn ways to provide support to infants and toddlers in your care. For example, you can learn how and when families feed their infants, which is influenced by culture and affects development. When differences are viewed through the lens of culture, respectful conversations can lead to agreement in how these practices will be supported in a group early care and learning environment.

    Early care and learning settings provide an environment in which adults and children can learn about and honor differences in values, beliefs and perceptions. Learning one's culture occurs primarily within the family; however, in early care and learning environments, infants and toddlers also learn about culture and experience relationships that influence their sense of who they are and who they will become.

    To help children develop this sense of who they are and who they will become, you must honor and celebrate the diversity of families. Diversity exists in a variety of dimensions, including:

    • Composition (who is a member of the family)
    • Race and ethnicity
    • Language
    • Socioeconomic status
    • Sexual orientation
    • Ability or dis/ability
    • Educational background
    • Values and traditions
    • Child-rearing practices

    Being a responsive caregiver to infants and toddlers means that you demonstrate sensitivity and consideration for the multiple backgrounds, experiences, values, and contexts in which children and families live.

    Being a responsive caregiver also means that you are always professional and ethical when working with families. In doing that, you should practice the following:

    • Keep information about children and their families confidential. This refers to reviewing child and family records, having conversations with other infant-toddler providers in your program or in the community, or engaging in conversations with other people you know in the community.
    • When you know confidential information about a child or family, use that information to help them and not judge them.
    • If individuals ask you for confidential information about infants, toddlers, or families in your classroom or program, refer them to your T&C or program director.


    Embracing Diversity

    Watch this video to learn about embracing diversity in classrooms and programs.

    Working with Families of Children with Dis/Abilities

    In this video you will learn about working with families of children with dis/abilities.


    There is a lot you can do to show that you value the families of infants and toddlers in your program. Consider the following guidelines that reflect family-centered practice, and then think about how you can use these guidelines in your work with children and families.

    • Recognize the family as the constant in the child's life and that caregivers and service systems may come and go.
    • Acknowledge that families know their children best, and learn to view them as partners and collaborators in your work. Reach out to them and invite their input.
    • Facilitate collaboration between families and professionals.
    • Encourage family-to-family support and networking.
    • Honor and respect family diversity in all dimensions (cultural, racial, ethnic, linguistic, spiritual, socioeconomic, or in terms of family members' sexual orientations). You may do this by:
      • Asking families about their home language, sharing key phrases they use at home.
      • Demonstrating genuine interest about each child and family you work with and making an effort to get to know them.
      • Having family information and children's books in the languages of each family.
      • Inviting families to visit your classroom and program and sing songs, tell stories, and show books or pictures that demonstrate their culture, and, for toddlers, introduce culturally specific foods.
      • Observing how a family interacts with their infant or toddler.
      • Asking families to create a family or neighborhood storybook.
      • Meeting regularly with families to learn about their hopes, dreams and goals for their infant or toddler.



    Download and print the handout Working With Families. Read the scenario and brainstorm how you would respond. Then, share and discuss your responses with a T&C or supervisor. When you are finished, compare your answers to the suggested response.



    Use the resources in this section to learn more about working with families. After reading both handouts, meet with your T&C to discuss ways to implement some of these ideas in your work with diverse families and families with children with special needs.

    The first handout, Family Engagement With Diverse Families, provides a resource you can use to brainstorm ideas on how to engage with diverse families in a sensitive, thoughtful manner.

    The second handout, Partnering With Families, provides links to articles and resources on supporting families with children with special needs.


    CultureA set of shared values, attitudes, or practices that characterize certain groups of individuals
    Family-centered practiceA philosophy or way of thinking that supports practices in which families are considered central and the most important decision-makers in a child’s life; more specifically, this philosophy recognizes that the family is the constant in a child’s life and that service systems and providers must support, respect, encourage, and enhance the strengths of the family




    True or false? Diversity refers only to a family’s race and ethnicity.


    Finish this sentence: Family-centered practice…


    Your colleague, Rita, asks you for suggestions of how to include families in her daily work. What do you say?

    References & Resources

    Baker, A. C., & Manfredi/Petitt L. A. (2004). Relationships, the Heart of Quality Care: Creating community among adults in early care settings . Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    CONNECT Modules. Retrieved from

    Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC Recommended Practices in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education 2014. Retrieved from

    Ernst, J. D. (2015). Supporting Family Engagement. Teaching Young Children, 9(2), 8-9.

    Gonzalez-Mena, J. (2005). A Framework for Understanding Differences. In Diversity in Early Care and Education, 4th ed., (pp. 61-77). New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Hanson, M. J., & Lynch, E. W. (2004). Understanding Families: Approaches to diversity, disability, and risk. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

    Head Start Center for Inclusion. Retrieved from

    National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011). NAEYC Position Statement: Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment. Retrieved from

    Rogoff, B. (2003). The Cultural Nature of Human Development. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Salloum, S. J., Goddard, R.D,  & Berebitsky, D. (2018). Resources, learning, and policy: the relative effects of social and financial capital on student learning in schools. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR) 23(4), 281-303. Retrieved from See also

    Sandall, S., Hemmeter, M. L., Smith, B. S., & McLean, M. (2005). DEC Recommended Practices: A comprehensive guide. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

    Schweikert, G. (2012). Winning Ways: Partnering with families. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

    Tomlinson, H. B. (2015). Explaining Developmentally Appropriate Practice to Families. Teaching Young Children, 9(2), 16-17.

    Turnbull, A. P., Turbiville, V., & Turnbull, H. R. (2000). Evolution of Family-Professional Partnerships: Collective empowerment as the model for the early twenty-first century. In J. P. Shonkoff & S. J. Meisels (Eds.). Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention (pp. 630-650). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

    Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R., Erwin, E. J., & Soodak, L. C. (2006). Families, Professionals, and Exceptionality: Positive outcomes through partnerships and trust. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.