Louis, a teacher who works with 2-year-old Joaquin, observes Joaquin making piles of leaves during outdoor time three days in a row. On the same three days, Louis also observes Joaquin painting pictures with large splotches of red, yellow, and brown and saying, “This my leafs” over and over again to himself as he paints. On the fourth morning, Joaquin’s grandfather, who brings him to the center, shares that Louis has been coming home with leaves in his pockets. He puts them in an empty tissue box, which he then shows to everyone who comes to visit! Louis laughs and shares how Joaquin has been exploring leaves at the center.
Based on his observations and information from the grandfather, Louis decides that the following week, he will bring baskets outside for Joaquin to use to gather leaves, create a space for him to display leaves in the classroom, and ﬁnd one-on-one opportunities with him to read and talk about the book Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf at diﬀerent times during the day. Louis also decides to take photos of Joaquin’s leaf explorations to share with Joaquin’s family.
The vignette above shows how observation and reﬂection ﬂow naturally into planning for individualized care. As Petersen and Wittmer stated, “planning becomes a process of observing [infants, toddlers, and 2-year-olds], thinking about their interests and the purpose of their actions, and then planning for moments of interaction that have emotional meaning and support learning through exploration and discovery.” This statement is reﬂected in the Head Start Program Performance Standards, which require programs to support each child’s individual rate of development and learning in active partnership with children’s families and analyze ongoing child assessment data to individualize experiences, instructional strategies, and services to best support each child (45 CFR §1302.30; 45 CFR §1302.31; 45 CFR §1302.32; 45 CFR §1302.33; 45 CFR §1302.34; 45 CFR §1302.35; 45 CFR §1302.61).
Head Start programs serving infants and toddlers—Early Head Start and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start—have an incredible opportunity to nurture very young children during one of the most formative periods of their lives. As an education program leader, you have an important role in helping teachers, home visitors, and family child care providers implement practices that are tailored to support the strengths and needs of each child and family.
This technical assistance paper focuses on the “why,” “what,” and “how” of individualizing care for infants and toddlers. The following sections address why and what to individualize:
- Why Is Individualizing Care Important for Infants and Toddlers?
- Considerations for Individualizing
- Regulations, Structures, and Practices That Effectively Support Individualized Care
- Developing and Strengthening Staff Competence in Individualizing Care
The next five sections cover how to individualize:
- Context for Individualizing Care
- Reflecting and Interpreting: A Closer Look
- Planning for Individualization: A Closer Look
- Implementing Plans
- Reflecting on Implementation
Additionally, this technical assistance paper:
- Highlights relevant Head Start Program Performance Standards
- Provides a bibliography and related resources
- Includes reflective questions to use with education staﬀ and other program leaders
- Complements Child Observation: The Heart of Individualizing Responsive Care for Infants and Toddlers
 Petersen, Sandra H., and Donna S. Wittmer, Endless Opportunities for Infant and Toddler Curriculum: A Relationship-Based Approach, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2013), 88.
National Centers:Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning
Age Group:Infants and Toddlers
Last Updated: December 7, 2020