The best single predictor of quality in programs for infants and toddlers is to be found in the people who care for them. "Good" infant/toddler care givers are people who enjoy babies, observe them carefully and modify or enrich the environment based on their observations. The best care givers know when to help a child, when to stay out of the way, and how to encourage children to set and solve their own tasks. These care givers are always attentive to the babies-they do not carry on extended conversations with other adults or become engrossed in housekeeping chores, although of course they create a safe and attractive environment. Good care givers must also be superb communicators, as clear communication among staff and parents is essential. Helping children communicate in acceptable ways is rooted in having available adult models for them to observe.
Other characteristics of effective care givers include understanding child development, in order to plan developmentally appropriate activities. Caring for very young children is physically demanding, so care givers should be in good health and able to do the necessary tasks. Honoring the culture of children's families and communities is often difficult if customs run counter to a care giver's personal beliefs. Here again clear communication is the key to resolving differences.
When I visit a program for infants and toddlers I have my own checklist for assessing the strengths of the care givers: (The items are not in order of priority, but are in the order in which I can usually observe them!):
When I can say "YES!" to these questions chances are good that a more detailed assessment will indicate that the program is one in which children will thrive.