Babies & Toddlers

Overview

Babies and Toddlers

If learning begins at birth, then so does the education beat. Research shows the first three years are the most important period of development in what experts call “brain architecture.” This architecture "provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health," according to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. 

If learning begins at birth, then so does the education beat. Research shows the first three years are the most important period of development in what experts call “brain architecture.” This architecture “provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health,” according to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. 

Understanding the issues and policies that affect babies and toddlers can better inform reporters’ coverage of early-childhood education and schools in general.  

The environments in which young children spend their earliest years — and the experiences they have with adults caring for them — have an impact on learning, social and emotional development, and school outcomes later in life. The serve-and-return interaction between babies and caregivers contributes to language and cognitive growth, but the lack of safe, warm and secure relationships, and prolonged stress and adversity can compromise later health and development.

While it’s important to understand the child care sector, multiple public policies impact very young children, from tax credits and home-visiting programs to developmental screenings and access to proper nutrition and health care. At both the state and federal levels, such programs have varying eligibility guidelines and often don’t reach some of the most disadvantaged families. 

Caring for the Caregivers

Most infants and toddlers spend part of their day with someone other than a parent, including relatives, neighbors and professional child care providers. Data shows that apart from parental care, young children are much more likely to be with home-based providers rather than in center-based programs. Surveys have shown parents often prefer a home-like environment for babies, and then shift toward preferring centers as children approach preschool age.

Reporting on infants and toddlers means paying attention to whether parents and caregivers have what they need to nurture and care for young children. A mother experiencing depression might withdraw from her baby. Families in poverty struggle to buy what children need to be safe and healthy, and a child care center with high teacher turnover might not be able to give young children the stability they need to thrive. 

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Data/Research: Babies and Toddlers

In the earliest years, learning and development is intertwined with health, nutrition, and family income and stability. Essential data sources and reports offer a comprehensive picture of the extent to which babies and toddlers have access to what they need for a healthy start in life. 

General

Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child breaks down the research on early development into accessible language, bridging the gap between science and general audiences. 

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History and Background: Babies and Toddlers

Publicly funded child care in the U.S. primarily functions as a support for low-income families, so they can work or go to school. But that wasn’t always the case. During World War II, Congress passed the Lanham Act to provide universal child care, so mothers could join the workforce and support the war effort. Eligibility for the program wasn’t based on family income, but when the war ended, so did funding for the centers.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering Parent Activism and Engagement? Go Beyond Critical Race Theory
‘Sexy headlines’ about the latest education controversy often grab attention. Learn why reporters shouldn’t limit their coverage. Plus, get research and the history of parent engagement in education.

A new generation of parent activists has arrived, and its members are far more concerned with “ballot boxes, legislative agendas and school district policy priorities than bake sales,” according to a new report from the public policy think tank FutureEd.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Cover the Complex World of Child Care Funding
Learn about how child care programs braid funding together—and still struggle to survive.

The fractured state of the child care industry has become especially clear during the coronavirus pandemic, as thousands of child care centers have closed permanently, and many more are struggling to find workers and survive economically.

Many of the issues facing these centers are related to the complexities of funding and lack of public investment in child care. It is expensive to provide, unaffordable for many families, and child care workers make such meager wages that many live in poverty, something that has led to an exodus of early educators during the pandemic. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Are Regional Educational Labs? Tips for Accessing Research and Story Ideas From an Overlooked Source
Find studies, subject matter experts, insight into educators’ concerns and more from a federal network of labs.

Reporters hunting for useful research can try a federal source that many overlook – Regional Educational Laboratories across the country.

The U.S. Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), allocates roughly $57 million a year to this network of 10 laboratories. Each lab’s researchers team up with educators and policymakers to try to figure out what works and what doesn’t in their districts. 

EWA Radio

Home Ec’s ‘Secret History’
New book explores how home economics influenced American life and public education beyond 'stitching and stirring' (EWA Radio Episode 276)

Often overlooked and misunderstood, home economics is about far more than learning to bake cakes or sew lopsided oven mitts, argues education journalist Danielle Dreilinger. She discusses her new book, “The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live.”