What led you to conduct research on quality interactions between caregivers and young children?
My interest in this area of research was born out of my own experience as a mother looking for a suitable childcare centre for my infant son many years ago. I noticed the types and quality of interactions between educarers (a term used for educators of infants and toddlers) and young children varied greatly between centres. This led me to embark on research on the topic of quality interactions for the birth to three age group and its impact on child development.
One-to-one interactions are of critical importance to the healthy development of an infant-toddler. Babies experience very rapid brain growth in the early years of their lives and it is through what is termed as 'serve and return' interactions between a baby and his/her significant adult that learning takes place in daily routines. Warm, sensitive and responsive interactions promote a young child's ability to form a secure attachment and positive relationship with his/her caregiver, fuelling the child's desire and confidence to explore, be curious and learn about the world. Responsive caregiving and quality interactions that provide opportunities for learning are essential to the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of young children.
Some of the common indicators of quality interactions found in literature and quality assessment scales include positive attention and guidance, warmth, sensitivity, respect, responsive, engagement, language assimilation, tone of voice  (Harms, Cryer, Clifford and Yazejian, 2017; Carl, 2007). In my doctoral research, I found that while most educarers are cognizant of the importance of quality interactions, not all of them translate this knowledge into practice. This led me to follow up with my research participants over the course of a few years to uncover their conceptions about their caregiving role and practice as a professional. The article that I published last year was the result of a few rounds of interviews with some of the participants who reflected on their role and practice in the education and care of infants and toddlers in Singapore.
Can you share with us about this research?
The way educarers perceive their role in the education and care of infants and toddlers impacts their pedagogical practices and interactions with the children under their care. Moreover, their image of the child in terms of his/her capabilities and how a young child learns influence the way they interact with the child.
"The way educarers perceive their role in the education and care of infants and toddlers impacts their pedagogical practices and interactions with children under their care."
Dr Cynthia Lim, Senior Lecturer, Early Childhood Education Programme
I found that educarers who conceive their main role as providing custodial care to an infant or toddler will tend to focus on the physical aspects of caregiving, for example, routines like feeding, diapering, bathing and sleeping. They may often think of these routines as tasks to be completed, thus missing opportunities to engage in social interactions with the children during the routines. On the other hand, educarers who perceive their role as encompassing both education and care (hence 'edu' and 'care') tended to incorporate learning and interactions in the daily routines of the children, making every interaction count towards learning a new skill, a word or a time for bonding with the child. If their image of a baby is that of a capable and competent learner even though he is very young and not verbal yet, they will likely provide responsive interactions in their daily care of the baby and provide learning opportunities.
What are the implications of this finding?
Teaching infants and toddlers require intellectual effort and keen observations of the infant's subtle cues, daily changing behaviours and interests. Educarers need to adapt their responses and curriculum to follow the child's lead. Pre-service and professional training should involve critical reflection of teachers' beliefs, attitudes and practice in order to make meaningful changes and improvements in teaching. More hand-on practical learning on providing quality interactions and curriculum design will raise the standards of professional practice. This relates not only to educarers but to all early education professionals.
The curriculum design of the SUSS undergraduate Degree in Early Education places emphasis on training our students to be reflective practitioners seeking to constantly critique their own beliefs, attitudes and practices. Learning to provide quality interactions by way of positive guidance, sensitive observation, scaffolding thinking, language facilitation, promotion of social and emotional development for children are some important learning outcomes for our teacher-trainees. All this is guided by our ECE department's philosophy and image of a child as a competent learner, meaning-maker, and problem-solver.
Featured Publication by Dr Cynthia Lim:
Lim, C. (2019). Singaporean educarers' reflections about their role and practices in the education and care of infants. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 40(2), 74–95. https://doi.org/10.1080/10901027.2018.1519518
 Teachers College Press (2017): Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale, Third Edition (ITERS-3)
 Psychology (2007): Child Caregiver Interaction Scale
For enquires about this article, please contact CFAR via email