Appendix 2 - Characteristics of Infants, Toddlers and Young Children


Infants – Birth to about 18 months

Infants are learning to anticipate events, make sense of their worlds and communicate their needs in these early months of life.  They learn through touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste in exploration of their everyday environments, and through interactions with adults and other children in environments that are safe yet provide sensory stimulation.

‘Experiences’ grow the brain of our infants.  These ‘experiences’ are through playful exploration.

Infants learn by having a variety of safe, everyday objects that stimulate their senses. Play in natural environments or with natural materials (nature), provide rich opportunities for exploring.  Warm sun on faces, squishy mud between toes, the smell of mint in the garden! Our senses gather information about the world around us and how it works

In a particular approach to working with infants, called heuristic play, infants who are old enough to sit up comfortably on their own2 and reach for objects are given free access to everyday items stored in a container or basket . Adults stay with and watch the infant while they explore, without taking over. Infants can focus for long periods of time, sitting alongside a basket and choosing from a range of materials, exploring their space and texture by mouthing, banging, handling and waving.

At other times infants need adults to talk with them, anticipate their interest, actions and requirements as well as provide new opportunities and experiences.

Special activities for infants might include:

  • batting/grasping/kicking, use scarves, toys that roll and mobiles;
  • infant ‘peepo’, use net curtains, boxes, mirrors and scarves;
  • for pulling up, use towel rails attached to wall, steps and couches;
  • use an empty paddling pool to create a play pit, use balls, washable scarves and ribbons; and
  • a cosy quiet area, use pillows, curtains and soft toys
  • sensory objects to touch, taste, shake, smell, bang, push, prod, and look at 

Infants need a safe, interesting and calm place to explore and adults or other children to play, interact and talk with them. While young infants will generally stay in one place, older infants are mobile – so infants at playgroup need large enough spaces to explore safely.   Premises need to be able to be easily cleaned and kept hygienic.

Young infants like to practise body movements – they do this best while lying on a firm, cushioned surface. Make sure there are cushions or comfortable matting for young infants to lie on, and give them opportunities to explore objects with their hands and mouths by having suitable equipment nearby. Infants spend a great deal of time looking up towards the ceiling, walls and lights, so put some interesting mobiles or pictures/posters on the walls and ceilings to stimulate their learning, and have comfortable seats or couches in the infant area for adults to sit and hold infants or for breastfeeding.

Mobile infants love to explore, so allow plenty of room for them to move. Provide small, safe challenges with different levels to encourage learning, such as low steps or risers – or the group could use couches, large boxes, mattresses and piles of cushions.

2 Sitting comfortably on their own is in reference to not ‘propping’ your infant up with pillows or cushions to sit.  It is better to wait until he/she gets to the sitting position ‘by themselves, when they are ready, in their own time’; that is, when their back and neck is strong enough to support this sitting position.

Last updated: 6 July 2010