Making Competence Visible: The Relationship Between Educators’ Image of the Infant and Their Empowerment of Young Children as Active Decision Makers

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Ahearn, Krista
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Mount Saint Vincent University
I have been working as an Early Childhood Educator for the past fourteen years, the last twelve of which I have practiced emergent curriculum and Reggio-inspired philosophy. For most of this time I have worked with infants and young toddlers, from 4 months to 2 years of age, and have come to understand just how capable and competent these young explorers are. It seems to me that because babies are generally pre-verbal or have limited verbal language abilities, they are often viewed by adults as less aware, less intelligent, and less capable of independent thought and inquiry than older children. However, my observations of and interactions with infants, and the in-depth relationships I have built with so many of them over time, have given me a much different image of the diverse ways babies learn and develop. Infants have many ways of expressing their thoughts, emotions, ideas, interests, needs, wants, and so much more. I believe that they are born ready to communicate and connect with others through vocalizations, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, sign language, and many other methods. In turn, babies require adults to “listen” with so much more than just their ears. By reflecting on my own experience and observing other educators, I have come to recognize the power adults can have in either supporting or stifling infants’ self-perceptions and their ability to actively learn from their environments and the people within them. At its core, my professional philosophy centres on the belief that infants, like all children, deserve adults’ respect, trust, and support in realizing their full potential as competent, active learners. They have the right to be seen, heard, and included in their classrooms, schools, and communities. For young children to be active participants in their lives, they need to be allowed to make decisions for themselves related to their own well-being, fulfillment, and the ways they want and deserve to be treated by others. It is up to the adults in their lives to support their desire to make choices, experiment with options, evaluate outcomes, and reflect on future possibilities. Educators can act as guides and partners in exploration with infants by getting to know them and their ways of communicating, and providing as many developmentally appropriate opportunities for autonomy and decision making as possible. By doing so, teachers not only become an advocate for the children in their care, but also help infants to find and project their own voices, and share these with others.