Taken-for-granted beliefs about babies’ capabilities

DR ANDI SALAMON shares findings from her research with babies and toddlers. Salamon’s research includes close observations of babies’ social behaviour and capacity for independently managing themselves. She investigated the beliefs educators have of babies’ capabilities how they shape educators’ practices, and, ultimately, babies’ experiences.

As an early childhood teacher, toddlers first and then babies became increasingly interesting to me. It was so clear how socially aware babies were, so tuned in to things happening around them, but the stories I heard adults tell about babies and toddlers seemed quite at odds with the capable young humans I was observing. ‘Egocentric’, ‘needy’, ‘short attention span’, and ‘terrible at two’ … these stories were so prevalent, but I wondered, how did these stories affect the babies?

In direct and indirect ways, early childhood educators establish spaces where babies experience early childhood education. These spaces are influenced by the beliefs, attitudes and professional knowledge educators draw on (Salamon, Sumsion, Press, & Harrison, 2015). Commonly—especially with babies and toddlers—professional knowledge is less influential than taken-for-granted beliefs and attitudes, which are often enacted in practice. For example, there is much developmental literature outlining babies’ immense physical, cognitive, social and communicative competence; however, babies capabilities are often underestimated and largely undervalued (Salamon, 2011). My research investigated the beliefs educators have of babies capabilities that shape educators’ practices, and, ultimately, babies’ experiences.

The research was undertaken as a six-month case study, where I worked with educators in a birth to twos program in Sydney. Drawing on the theory of practice architectures (Kemmis & Grootenboer, 2008), data were generated and shared of educators’ individual practices, i.e., their sayings, doings, and relatings, as well as the spaces, i.e., the practice architectures, where their practices are enabled and constrained.

Overall, educators believed babies were more capable of independently managing themselves physically and cognitively through exploration and self-directed learning, than they were managing emotionally or socially (Salamon & Harrison, 2015). When educators thought babies were capable of managing particular situations, they gave them more time and space to actively do so. For example, an educator who thought an infant was capable of managing her emotional response to a social situation waited without interrupting before offering the baby ‘help’ through sayings (‘What’s wrong with Sophie?’), doings (fine and close observation), and in her relatings (sympathetic tone) with the baby (Salamon, 2017). Within that space, babies had opportunities to manage their own lived experiences, which, in line with repetition in infant development, reinforced the babies’ experiences and subsequent learning.

Conversely, when educators did not believe babies were capable, they gave them less space to independently manage themselves, and, ultimately, the babies were less able to manage their experiences. The findings illustrated a cycle between educators’ beliefs about capabilities, their practices, and the ways babies capabilities were enabled and/or constrained. The research also confirmed my earlier observations of babies sophisticated capacities, and how important it is for educators working with them to engage in critical deep reflection to acknowledge and deconstruct taken-for-granted beliefs and attitudes about them.

References

  • Kemmis, S., & Grootenboer, P. (2008). Situating praxis in practice. In S. Kemmis & T. Smith (Eds.)
    Enabling praxis: Challenges for education. Amsterdam: Sense.
  • Salamon, A. (2011). How the Early Years Learning Framework can help shift pervasive beliefs about the social and emotional capabilities of infants and toddlers. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 12 (1), 4-10.
  • Salamon, A., & Harrison, L. (2015). Early childhood educators’ conceptions of infants’ capabilities: The nexus between beliefs and practice. Early Years: An International Research Journal, 35 (3), 273-288.
  • Salamon, A., Sumsion, J., Press, F., & Harrison, L. (2015). Implicit theories and naïve beliefs: Using the theory of practice architectures to deconstruct the practices of early childhood educators. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 14 (4), 431-443.
  • Salamon, A. (2017). Infants’ practices: Shaping (and shaped by) the arrangements of early childhood education. In S. Kemmis, K. Mahon, & S. Francisco (Eds.), Exploring education and professional practice – Through the lens of practice architectures. Dordrecht: Springer.


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Andi Salamon

Dr. Andi Salamon is an early childhood teacher with 20 years of professional early childhood education (ECE) experience. She graduated from her doctorate in 2016 and teaches education studies at the Australian Catholic University based in Sydney. Her research expertise, experiences as a practitioner and leadership role as a director in ECE contexts come together in her work, and she values making her work accessible to educators working with infants in ECE settings. An advocate for infants’ rights and quality early years experiences and pedagogy for all children, Andi brings her passion to uphold children’s optimal learning to her work with preservice teachers.

2 thoughts on “Taken-for-granted beliefs about babies’ capabilities”

    Valuable work indeed to undo the cycle of expectation that keeps leading to a deficient outcome. Let’s pay closer attention to the babies who already say so much if we know how to listen to and read them. From recent research work with babies and music, we know that how they align their body to a sound tells us if they’re interested and if the music is following the rules they’ve set up.

    Renata Stipanovic says:

    Very interesting connection between babies & music. I’d like to learn more on that.

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