Article review

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Article Review Structure

Introduction:  How did the author(s) introduce the content area? How was the topic situated within a larger view of early childhood education? What is the purpose? Was the need for this research discussed? (i.e. Did the author(s) build a case for a need for this research?) If so, what was the reasoning? Were related studies discussed in terms of the present research? What are the research questions?

Methods: What is the setting? Who are the participants? What are the data sources? How was the data collected? How was the data analyzed?

Findings: What were the findings from this study? How were the findings supported? (examples from transcripts, statistical evidence, etc…)

Discussion: How were the findings interpreted? How were the findings discussed in terms of the research questions? How were the findings discussed in terms of the larger problem within early childhood education? Did the explanation of the findings make sense to you?

Limitations: What were the limitations stated by the author(s)?  Did you find any other limitations existed?

Future directions: What were the future directions stated by the author? Would you use this research for any other future research not mentioned?

Reflection: What did you think of this article? Do you believe there was a need for this research within the field of early childhood education?  Were there any foundational components missing? If you could change portions of this research, how would you change it?

Article Review Structure


How did the author(s) introduce the content area? How was the topic situated within a larger view of early childhood education? What is the purpose? Was the need for this research discussed? (i.e. Did the author(s) build a case for a need for this research?) If so, what was the reasoning? Were related studies discussed in terms of the present research? What are the research questions?

What is the setting? Who are the participants? What are the data sources? How was the data collected? How was the data analyzed?

What were the findings from this study? How were the findings supported? (examples from transcripts, statistical evidence, etc…)

How were the findings interpreted? How were the findings discussed in terms of the research questions? How were the findings discussed in terms of the larger problem within early childhood education? Did the explanation of the findings make sense to you?

What were the limitations stated by the author(s)? Did you find any other limitations existed?

Future directions:
What were the future directions stated by the author? Would you use this research for any other future research not mentioned?

: What did you think of this article? Do you believe there was a need for this research within the field of early childhood education? Were there any foundational components missing? If you could change portions of this research, how would you change it?









Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28 (2013) 187–198

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

Early Childhood Research Quarterly

eachers’ roles in infants’ play and its changing nature in a dynamic group
are context

eesun Jung
epartment of Teacher Education, Patton College of Education, Ohio University, United States

r t i c l e i n f o

rticle history:
eceived 8 August 2011
eceived in revised form 21 April 2012
ccepted 1 May 2012

a b s t r a c t

Using a qualitative research approach, this article explores teachers’ roles in infants’ play and its changing
nature in an infant group care setting. Three infant teachers in a child care center were followed over
three months. Observations, interviews, ongoing conversations, emails, and reflective notes were used


eachers’ roles
nfant development
nfant group care

as data sources. Findings revealed that the teachers took on various roles: observer, play follower/play
partner, facilitator, commentator/interpreter, play supporter, play leader, play interrupter, safety/conflict
manager, multiple-responder, and multiple-role taker. The nature of the teachers’ roles developed and
changed over time in relation to the infants’ rapid growth, group dynamics, and infant–teacher relation-
ships. This study suggests that infant teachers’ practice is complex, changing, and developmental as the
group care context is dynamic and multilayered.

In early childhood education, there has been unanimous agree-
ent among educators and researchers that children learn and

row through play (Fromberg, 2002; Manning-Morton & Thorp,
003; Van Hoorn, Nourot, Scales, & Alward, 2003; Wood & Attfield,
005). Play enhances children’s understanding of the social and
hysical worlds, enriches their emotional experiences, and empow-
rs their ownership and control of their own learning (Borstein

Lamb, 1992; Honig, 2006; Wortham & Wortham, 1989). Thus,
n play, children are committed to what they pursue and actively
ry out more creative thinking (Broadhead & English, 2005;

hitebread & Jameson, 2005). During play, children flexibly move
n and out of their imaginative world, experimenting with their
ctions and controlling their real world (Lillard, 2007). Children are
ocialized and enculturated by interacting with peers and teach-
rs through play (Pramling-Samuelsson & Fleer, 2010). They learn
o communicate, negotiate with others, and understand their per-
pectives (Fromberg, 2002; Manning-Morton & Thorp, 2003).

Teachers’ roles in children’s play have been regarded as a
owerful influence on children’s quality experiences (File, 1994;
ontos & Wilcox-Herzog, 1997). A considerable body of research
as focused on teachers’ roles in play at preschools (e.g. Bennett,
ood, & Rogers, 2001; Einarsdottir, 1998; Kemple, 1996; Korat,

ahar, & Snapir, 2002; Saracho, 2002). Taking a qualitative

esearch approach, these studies identified teachers’ roles during
hildren’s play as stage manager, mediator, player, scribe, asses-
or/communicator, planner (Jones & Reynolds, 1992), provider,

E-mail address: [email protected]

885-2006/$ – see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

observer, participant (Bennett et al., 2001), stage manager, play-
mate/enhancer, interviewer, and safety/behavior monitor (Kontos,
1999). Providing detailed descriptions of teachers’ role-taking in
play within natural classroom settings, these studies highlight the
importance of teachers’ roles and the complexity of classroom con-
text and its relation to teachers’ practices. They also provide further
insight on the actions of teachers’ involvement in play.

Substantial research also provides that mothers support and
enrich infants’ play. When mothers stay near infants, convey an
affectionate and sensitive attitude, encourage their attention, sug-
gest new toys, and use modeling for play, infants show a high level
of focus and far more advanced play than they do in their soli-
tary play (Bigelow, MacLean, & Proctor, 2004; Bornstein, Haynes,
O’Reilly, & Painter, 1996; Fiese, 1990; Hodapp, Goldfield, & Boyatzis,
1984; Pridham, Becker, & Brown, 2000). However, a majority of the
studies concentrate on mothers’ roles while there is a paucity of
research on infant teachers’ roles in play. Even though the studies
on mothers elucidate the significant aspects of adults’ roles in play,
it should be recognized that mothers’ roles cannot be generalized
to infant teachers’ due to their contrasting caregiving contexts.

Studies on infant group care reveal the unique nature of infant
teachers’ work while posing important questions regarding teach-
ers’ roles in play. First, infant–teacher ratios are reported to
influence teachers’ behaviors. Some research has shown that if
teachers work in settings with high infant–teacher ratios, they
show a low level of sensitivity and responsiveness because they
have to divide their attentions among several infants (Ahnert,

Pinquart, & Lamb, 2006; Goossens & Melhuish, 1996; NICHD Early
Child Care Research Network, 1996). But, somewhat different
results are reported by Klein and Feldman (2007) who found that

1 arch Q





88 J. Jung / Early Childhood Rese

eachers were highly sensitive and responsive to infants even in
setting with a high toddler–teacher ratio (1:6 to 1:8). It should

e noted that the teachers were assessed during their one-on-
ne interactions with toddlers. These results pose questions about
hether teachers’ sensitivity and responsiveness changes depend-

ng on the number of infants they interact with at the moment of
lay and how group size might impact teachers’ roles in play.

Second, in group care settings, teachers form relationships
ith multiple infants. During the process of relationship build-

ng, teachers and infants become more “contingent, responsive, and
eciprocal” (Raikes & Edwards, 2009, p.2). In particular, caregivers
hange their behaviors toward infants, becoming significant fig-
res as “carer, playmate, resource, and teacher” (Lee, 2006, p.145).
ince play is believed to facilitate high-quality infant–teacher inter-
ctions (Bergen, Reid, & Torelli, 2009; Degotardi, 2010; Wittmer &
etersen, 2010), teachers’ roles in play might also change according
o their developing relationships with infants. Thus, how teachers’
oles unfold within the course of the relationship-building process
eeds to be addressed.

Third, studies on mothers’ behavior in play suggest that
dults change their response according to children’s development
Bornstein, Tamis-LeMonda, Hahn, & Hayes, 2008; Danis, Bourdais,

Ruel, 2000; Morelock, Brown, & Morrissey, 2003). In Sachs’s
1984) study, the mother adjusted her language stimulation to the
evel of communicative ability of her toddler, using less explicit
uggestions and more descriptive speech and inferences for the
hild as he became older. Mothers also modify their play behav-
or to fit their infants’ cognitive development (Dickson & Smith,
003). In Newland, Roggman, and Boyce’s study (2001), as infants
rew over time from 11 months to 17 months, they increas-
ngly initiated more social toy play with their mothers and the

others increasingly got involved in their play and responded
eciprocally. Whereas many studies demonstrate that mothers dif-
erentiate responses according to infants’ developmental status,
ew studies explore teachers’ changing practice in response to
nfants’ growth. One recent study by Deynoot-Schaub and Riksen-

alraven (2008) showed that teachers’ ways of interacting differed
t 15 months versus 23 months. For 23-month-olds, the teach-
rs were more supportive and respectful of the infants’ autonomy,
howing higher quality interactions than at an earlier age. The
esearchers presumed that during the second year, the teachers’
etter understanding of the infants as well as the infants’ rapid
rowth in language, cognitive, motor, and social skills contributed
o the infants’ independence and teachers’ changing practice. How-
ver, a question remains regarding what actually underlied the
eachers’ changing practice. Taken together, these studies provide
aluable insights into infant teachers’ practice and the complexities
f practice inherent in group care settings, but still leave significant
uestions unaddressed regarding teachers’ roles in play.

Recently, a group of scholars from various countries collabora-
ively conducted cultural–historical research on the play of children
rom birth to 3 years of age (Fleer, Tonyan, Mantilla, & Rivalland,
010; Pramling-Samuelsson & Sheridan, 2010; Rao & Li, 2010;
hite et al., 2010; Wineberg & Chicquette, 2010). The researchers

ideotaped five to eight children for one whole day in ECE set-
ings in each country and interviewed the children’s teachers and
arents. The findings showed that the parents and the teachers
onsidered play as the most important experience for children.
owever, their views of adult roles differed depending on their
ulture. For example, the Aotearoa New Zealand teachers mainly
iewed their roles as facilitator and guardian, the Swedish teachers
s observer, the Australian teachers as supporter of independent

earning, and the American teachers as provider of the play envi-
onment. The study suggested that these views of teachers’ roles
ere shaped and influenced by the social, cultural, and historical

ontext where they were situated and conceptualized.

uarterly 28 (2013) 187–198

To my best knowledge, the topic of teachers’ beliefs and prac-
tices in infants’ play has not been investigated as a primary focus
in empirical studies. Rather, infant teachers’ practice has been
set as a background context for examining infants’ play. It has
mostly been measured in terms of particular characteristics such
as sensitivity and responsiveness, and based on a few observed
occasions, thus missing a more holistic view of infant teachers’
practice (Santelices, Olhaberry, Perez-Salas, & Carvacho, 2009). Fur-
thermore, infant teachers’ beliefs about their practice have been
investigated very rarely until recently (Berthelsen & Brownlee,
2007; Degotardi, 2010). This may be in part because infant teach-
ers’ practice is seen as less educational or complex than preschool
teachers’, which is seen to entail more sophisticated decision pro-
cesses. Consequently, there has been a lack of in-depth knowledge
on actual infant teachers’ practice and their rationale behind the
practice. Many preservice and inservice teachers are not much less
prepared for informed practice in responding to infants’ play. To
further our understanding of infant teachers’ thinking and prac-
tice, there is a need to for research which centers on teachers,
details their roles in play, and articulates the rationale behind their
practice. Also, given that the nature of infant group care settings
is related to teachers’ practices, teachers’ roles should be inves-
tigated in a natural group care setting over an extended period
of time to document possible changes in practice, and the influ-
ences of those changes, as infants grow and change. The present
study takes on these inquiries by exploring infant teachers’ roles
in play on a daily basis over three months within a natural group
care setting.

So far, there is no qualitative study that investigates how infant
teachers’ roles in play unfold in a group care setting. Even though
quantitative research approaches are predominant in the major-
ity of the studies on center-based child care and they accurately
differentiate the quality of child care, qualitative research is neces-
sary to offer “a richer understanding” of the processes involved in
day to day interactions (Fenech, Sweller, & Harrison, 2010, p.293).
Using a qualitative case study method, the present study first
takes a microscopic approach by exploring what kinds of roles
teachers take on in infants’ play. Then, it takes a macroscopic
approach by exploring how teachers’ roles change over time. Find-
ings from this study can provide insight for preservice and inservice
teachers into the nature of infant teachers’ work and expand
their perspectives on teaching and caring through play in infant
care settings.

Research Questions

1. What roles do infant teachers take on in infants’ play in a group
care setting?

2. How do teachers’ roles change over time?

1. Method

The purpose of this study was to deliver a “thick description”
of teachers’ actual practice in play and their in-depth rationale
behind their practice, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of
the complexities of teachers’ practices in infant group care set-
tings (Merriam, 1998, p.31). Thus, it was important to invest an
extended period of time with the teachers, observing and interact-
ing with them, so as to understand an insiders’ view of their daily
experiences, therefore, qualitative case study was deliberately cho-
sen (Dyson & Genishi, 2005). Due to its “richness and diversity” as

a research method (Marshall & Rossman, 1999, p.61), case study
enabled me to be immersed in the setting, to become close to the
teachers’ experiences, and to reflect on what was experienced at
the setting (Stake, 2005).

J. Jung / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28 (2013) 187–198 189

Table 1
Description of the participants and their key infants.

Teacher/key infant Emily/Matt Irene/Ava Katie/Isabel

Age Early 30s/15 month Mid 30s/15 month Late 20s/15 month
Ethnicity of teacher/infant Caucasian/Caucasian Asian/Caucasian Asian American/Asian

Infant’s prior experience of the

primary caregiver & the center
Emily as a new key teacher to Matt &
Returning after the summer break

Irene as a new key teacher to Ava &
Returning after the summer break

Katie as a new key teacher to
Isabel & Returning after the
summer break

Teacher’s position & hours of working
per week

Head teacher, supervisor of student
teachers & 30 hours

Associate teacher, supervisor of
student teachers & 30 hours

Graduate assistant Teacher &
20 hours








Teacher’s education degree M.A. dual degree in early childhood
education (ECE) and special educati

.1. Site and participants

After the research proposal was approved by the Institutional
eview Board (IRB), I began searching for possible sites, using “pur-
oseful sampling” (Merriam, 1998, p.61). After I contacted several

ocal child care centers in New York City, a university-based child
are center was invited to be involved in the research because
f its dedication to child-centered education and play-based cur-
iculum. The center had one infant room where Emily (the head
eacher), Irene (the co-teacher), and Katie (the graduate assistant
eacher) worked with eight infants. First, I contacted the teachers
ia email to explain the purpose of the study and its methods, ask-
ng whether they would be interested in participating in the study.
ll three teachers returned positive responses via email within two
eeks. Then, I individually met with them, explaining the study in
etails and describing what might be possible discomfort due to
y presence in their room, as well as the potential benefit of their

rofessional growth through reflection. I also ensured the confi-
entiality of their participation. All three teachers volunteered to
articipate in the study.

The infant room had four additional part-time student teach-
rs who rotated working during the weekdays, contributing to a
ow infant–teacher ratio (3:1 or less). The setting implemented a
rimary caregiver system such that each teacher became a key
aregiver for certain infants, responsible for consistently provid-
ng individualized care, keeping records, and establishing a secure
elationship with their key infants (Margetts, 2005).

Although the focus of the study was on the teachers, the infants
ere also observed as the teachers got involved in their play. I

ocused on the infants who were older than 12 months, although
ounger infants (0–12 months) were capable and active players
Lee, 2006), because there were only limited studies on caregiver’s
lay with infants between 12 to 24 months. At the time of the study,
our infants (Hannah, Ava, Matt, Isabel) were identified, but Han-
ah came to the center only once or twice a week. Thus, observation
as mainly focused on the teachers’ play with Ava, Matt, and Isabel,

ll of whom were 15-months-old at the beginning of the study and
ere returning from the previous year at the center. The descrip-

ion of the teachers and their key infants is presented in Table 1. All
he names are pseudonyms.

.2. Data sources and analysis

The methods of data collection included observations, inter-
iews, emails, on-going conversations, and reflective notes. Data
ollection began on September 4, 2007, the first day on the cen-
er calendar, and lasted for 12 weeks until November 23, 2007.
observed the teachers inside the classroom as well as from

he observation room four days a week during the free choice
ime (8:45–11:00 AM or 11:30 depending on the weather and the
nfants’ schedule). During the observations, running records were
sed to note teachers’ and infants’ verbal behaviors (e.g., talk,

M.A. in ECE B.A. (Expect to obtain M.A. in
ECE in 6 months)

exclamation) and nonverbal behaviors (e.g., facial expression, ges-
ture, mood, action), and I typed them into MS-Word files later. The
observation notes were composed of play episodes, which were
the unit of analysis in this study (Genishi, 1981). Each play episode
necessitated three elements; infant play, teacher involvement, and
a beginning and ending moment of the play. The definition of play
used for the study followed from the teachers’ definition of play
described during their first interviews, which was an infant’s vol-
untary and exploratory behavior. If there were an element of infant
play and teacher involvement regardless of who initiated the play,
it was regarded as an episode. The total number of the episodes
for each participant is: Emily (n = 124), Katie (n = 122), and Irene
(n = 91).

In order to ensure trustworthiness, I used reflective notes,
‘member checking,’ and ongoing conferencing with a senior
researcher. On each reflective note, I wrote down my preconcep-
tions related to infant play and teachers’ roles and my expectations
about the study results. This helped me to critically examine my
pre-assumptions about the study, and to continuously think about
alternative ways to read and analyze the data (Bogdan & Biklen,
2003). I also sent the participants the observation notes via email
to ask for their feedback as ‘member checking’ (Janesick, 1994).
They sometimes responded with detailed explanations about the
notes. Ongoing conferences with a senior researcher helped me
with further reflection on data analysis.

Additional visits, emails, and casual conversations were also
utilized to provide clarification of observed behaviors. Individual
semi-structured 60–90 minute interviews were conducted with
each participant three times, in the beginning (Interview #1: Emily-
Sept. 7, Irene-Sept. 14, Katie-Sept. 10), in the middle (Interview
#2: Emily-Oct. 18, Irene-Oct. 25, Katie-Oct. 19), and at the end of
the research period (Interview #3: Emily-Nov. 20, Irene-Nov. 21,
Katie-Nov. 23). This afforded time for the participants to share their
present thoughts and reflect on their experiences related to the
study. During the interviews, I asked the teachers about their beliefs
about infants, play, and teachers’ roles. Their reflections on cur-
rent practice and their personal/professional experiences related
to play were also discussed since teachers’ beliefs are influenced
by these factors (Schoonmaker & Ryan, 1996; Williams, 1996). The
interviews were transcribed on the day of the interview.

I organized all the collected data in chronological order. Each
episode was indicated by the week of its occurrence and the episode
number for a particular teacher. For example, Irene’s episode W10
EP75 indicated that it was Irene’s 75th episode and occurred on the
10th week from the first day of data collection, which was the week
of November 5th.

The present study used inductive analysis and the data guided
what to look for during data analysis (Hatch, 2002). Originally I

set out to explore the teachers’ roles in play. As the study pro-
ceeded, the teachers’ interview and observation data informed me
that their roles were changing in relation to the infants’ growth
and infant–teacher relationship development over time. Thus, I

190 J. Jung / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28 (2013) 187–198

Table 2
Total number of the teachers’ play episodes with their key infant vs. other infants.

Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Total number of the teacher’s play
episodes with their key infant

8 19 25 20 23 13 13 11 6 16 8 6

Total number of the teacher’s play 9 19 18 23 15 12 13 10 13 27 13 12








episodes with ‘other’ infants
Total number of the teachers’ play

episodes with all three infants
17 38 43 41

dditionally included analyses of teachers’ changing roles in light
f this.

First, I started reading the data on the first day of data collec-
ion while paying attention to the teachers’ behaviors or comments
elated to the purpose of the study. As I continued reading, I looked
or emerging themes across the three teachers’ cases and their
xamples in the data. At this initial stage of analysis, many themes
ere found. Second, I tried to identify salient themes and coded

he major themes in the data while my re-reading continued. It
as important to track the data from all data sources as it helped

erify the themes. Third, as I found 10 major themes (observer, play
ollower/play partner, facilitator, commentator/interpreter, play
upporter, play leader, play interrupter, safety/conflict manager,
ultiple-responder, multiple-role taker), I re-read the examples of

ach theme by each week, searching for how they were related to
he infants’ growth and the teachers’ developing relationships with
he infants. This process helped me to see the changing patterns in
eachers’ role-taking over time. Finally, I counted the teacher’s play
pisodes with their key infants and ‘other’ infants, respectively, on
weekly basis and tabled them [Table 2]. On the last row of the

able, I recorded the total number of the teachers’ play episodes
ielded per week. This helped me to see changes in the frequency
f the teachers’ involvement in play with the infants over the three

. Results

Analysis of the data suggested that the teachers were involved
n the infants’ play in differing forms with various purposes and
hat their highlighted roles changed over the three months.

.1. Teachers’ roles in play

.1.1. Observer
All three teachers consistently assumed the role of observer in

he infants’ play, emphasizing it as the most important teacher’s
ole. Through observation, the teachers learned “everything about
hem [the infants]” (Emily), “how they feel, what they want, how
hey are developing themselves everyday. . .how they approach
ther people” (Irene), and “the skills that they have acquired or
re currently trying to achieve” (Katie). In particular, the teachers
nderscored that observation helped them to figure out “how to
xpand their play” (Katie) even though “it takes time to sit with
hem for a while, watch what they are doing, and decide how to get
nvolved in their play” (Emily). Emily also said, “Even when I am
eing more observant,. . .I still feel like a part of the play because
here is always opportunity that they might look to you for some
nput or . . .invite me into play.” The teachers’ observant attitude
rovided an opportunity to participate in the play as shown in the
ollowing episode.

“Isabel took a toy out of a basket and put it in another basket.
Irene watched her play. Isabel continued putting the toys in and
out of the basket. Then, she gave a toy to Irene. Irene said “Thank
you, Isabel” and put it in the basket. Isabel gave her another toy

41 22 24 21 15 37 19 17

and started the ‘give-and-take’ play with her. It lasted several
times.” [W1 EP 2]

Although Irene did not engage in Isabel’s play, her quiet obser-
vant attitude was in tune with Isabel’s cautious mood on her second
day after a summer break. Being present in Isabel’s play, Irene was
invited to play with her. Hence, beginning with the role of observer
helped teachers to spontaneously get engaged in infants’ play.

2.1.2. Play supporter – material/emotional/physical supporter
Emily said, “I consider my role [in play] as. . . support. I want

to be able to present myself to the children as someone that they
are trusting of.” The teachers considered that their support for
the infants should make the infants “feel safe” (Emily) while the
infants pursued their own interests during play. The role of sup-
porter appeared in various ways. When the teachers captured the
subjects of the infants’ interest through cues such as eye gaze, they
became the material supporters by bringing it to the infants. The
teachers provided emotional support such as encouragement when
the infants were hesitant to play or did not reach their goals dur-
ing play. The teachers provided physical support when the infants
struggled with their limited physical capabilities. The next episode
illustrates Katie’s role as physical supporter in Isabel’s play.

“Isabel was looking at the toys on the shelf. Katie said, “Yes.
There are toys up there. They are really hiding from you!” and
watched her. As Isabel shook and tapped on the toys, Katie said,
“Boom boom!,” “Swoosh, swish!” Isabel explored the toys for a
while then tried to reach the upper shelf. Katie held her up and
said “What’s up here? Do you want to do art with markers and
papers? Well, they are forks. . .” Katie moved along the shelf and
Isabel continued to explore the toys for two to three minutes.”
[W3 EP 27]

When Katie recognized Isabel’s interest in the toys, she did not
instantly engage in her play. Rather, she respected Isabel’s pace and
waited for her cues to provide the support until Isabel moved her
interest to the upper shelf. Her taking on a role of supporter helped
Isabel to continue her play and pursue her own interests without

2.1.3. Commentator/interpreter
The teachers assumed the role of commentator/interpreter by

verbally interpreting the infants’ cues, describing, and question-
ing the infants about how and what they played. The teachers
considered that their comments/interpretations would facilitate
the infants’ language acquisition. Katie said, “[When I am] giving
them the words of what they are doing. . .they gain the recep-
tive language.” Similarly, Emily said, “Labeling exactly what they
are doing without making an assumption creates that language
awareness. . .and encourages them to start using their own words.”
Also, the teachers believed that their comments/interpretations
helped them communicate with the infants. Irene said, “I talk to

the babies to see whether they understand me, then I take action.
The process is very important, step by step. If they don’t like my
idea, I see that.” Katie thought that by “reading them to see if they
are responding,” she could respond better to their intentions and

arch Q








J. Jung / Early Childhood Rese

roperly support their play. In practice, the teachers’ role of com-
entator/interpreter often drew the infants’ responses as shown

n the next episode.

“Matt was very tired due to an early wake-up this morning and
he squatted inside a play box [a carpeted wood box which can
be turned up so infants can sit inside, or over so they can climb
over it]. Emily said pleasantly, “Matt, you perfectly fit in that
box!” Matt smiled at her and climbed over the box as if he
wanted to hear more from Emily. Emily started commenting
on Matt’s actions, “Oh, you’re in the other box!. . .You are half
and half. . .Wow!. . .Good movement!” Matt actively climbed in
and out of the boxes along with her comments. Isabel climbed
into it and Matt looked at Emily. Emily said, “Oh, both of you can
fit it in the box!” Matt climbed out of the play box.” [W8 EP 77]

Sitting in the box, Matt did not show any interest in any activ-
ty. However, Emily’s descriptive comments about him appeared to
pontaneously motivate him to play around the box. As if Matt and
mily had been an actor and a narrator in a play, they sensitively
esponded to each other through the action-comment exchanges,
hich enabled Matt to become more active and smoothly settle

nto the day. The teacher’s role of commentator/interpreter enabled
oth the teachers and the infants to interactively engage in play and
o enhance their mutual communications.

.1.4. Play follower and play partner
The teachers assumed the role of play follower/partner when

hey found ‘playful’ moments to interact with the infants or when
he infants sent out the cues of invitation to their play. By copy-
ng the infants’ play, following their lead, and playing with them
t the level of their play, the teachers spontaneously entered the
lay “without being intrusive” (Emily) while supporting the infants
o maintain their control and ownership of the play. The teachers
elieved that the roles not only helped the infants to “have that
ecurity, [thinking] she’s okay. . .I can play with her” (Katie) but
ed to a “cooperative relationship” (Emily) between the teachers
nd the infants, where “so much more can get done” (Emily). Emily
ontinued, “If they didn’t see us as somebody to play with, they
ouldn’t interact with us in the same way.” The following episode

llustrates how Irene captured the playful moment to take on a role
f partner/follower in Ava’s playful actions.

“Irene told Ava that she needed to change her diaper. Ava gave
three diapers to Irene. Irene smiled at her, saying, “Three? You
need three diapers?” Ava gave her another diaper. Irene said,
“Four. Are you picking up all your diapers?” Ava smiled and
started ‘give-and-take’ play with Irene. Irene counted, “Five, six,
. . . Thank you!” Ava said, “Dank yoo.” Then Ava took a pair of
socks and was about to give them to Irene but took them back
quickly and walked to the door as if playing a chasing game.
Irene smiled.” [W4 EP 40]

When Ava grabbed several diapers, Irene did not force her to
ollow the routine but viewed it as a playful moment. With Irene’s
omments, Ava started her ‘give-and-take’ play. By accepting Ava’s
ction and responding to her with counting, Irene spontaneously
ntered the play as a follower/partner. While letting Ava maintain
he control of the play, Irene’s participation made the play more
nteractive and enjoyable. The role of follower/partner enabled
oth teachers and infants to share the playful and interactive

.1.5. Facilitator

The teachers considered one of their main roles as a “facilita-
or” (Emily) to expand the infants’ learning experiences based on
heir skills and interest in play. Irene said, “We have to see what the
abies are really interested in and know the limit of their ability. We

uarterly 28 (2013) 187–198 191

scaffold [their play].” Katie explained, “My role is to scaffold. . .to
see if the play should continue on that level or to bring some-
thing new to build onto the next skill level.” The role of facilitator
appeared most often when the teachers encountered a ‘teachable’
moment, when the infants were not actively engaged in play, or
when “they seemed to be looking for something, stuck or repeat-
ing” (Emily). Suggestions and modeling were the most frequently
used to facilitate infants’ play, through which the teachers sparked
the infants’ interest, expanded their play, and offered challenges for
the infants to move beyond their present level of play as described
in the next episode.

“While Isabel was walking around the shelf, Emily sat by a new
toy, a drum. Emily softly tapped on it and drew circles with her
finger on the drum. Isabel looked at her and tapped on the drum
once. Emily smiled and tapped once. Isabel tapped once. Emily
copied her. They looked at each other. Emily started tapping
it rhythmically and increasingly loudly, and suddenly stopped.
They took their turns of tapping a few more times. Isabel climbed
on the drum. Emily said, “(inaudible) Monkey!” then postured
like Isabel, giggling. Isabel climbed down and started tapping
on the drum with a shaker. Then they playfully tapped on the
drum together for a few minutes.” [W3 EP 28]

As Emily saw Isabel not engaged in play, Emily played the
drum to spontaneously get her interested in it. By modeling var-
ious sounds and rhythms of tapping, Emily helped enrich Isabel’s
exploratory play. While responsively tapping along with Isabel,
Emily developed this action into a collaborative work with Isabel,
which advanced into pleasant musical experiences. The role of facil-
itator entailed the teachers’ proactive engagement, sensitivity, and
understanding of the infants’ interest.

2.1.6. Play leader
When the teachers assumed the role of leader, the play was often

fun-oriented, ending up with laughters, and the infants became the
followers of the teachers’ playful actions such as silly acts or gentle
physical play (e.g. bouncing, tickling, or swaying the infants’ body).
The teachers frequently used this role to make a smooth transition
for the infants or to help the infants feel better. Also the teachers
took on the role just to have a playful moment with the infants as
shown in the next episode.

“Matt walked by Katie. Katie quickly and gently poked her fin-
ger to his chest and played with Ava as if she had not poked
him. Matt passed by Katie again. She poked once more and gig-
gled. Matt, with a big smile on his face, rode on the slide, often
checking on her, and passed by her without looking at her. She
poked him again. Matt exclaimed “Ha ha!” From then on, Matt
and Katie continued the play several more times. As a last turn,
Katie tickled Matt’s chest. Matt giggled and sat down on the
mat.” [W4 EP 45]

In this episode, Katie initiated and led the poking play with
Matt. Even though there was no word exchange, Matt and Katie
sensitively read each other’s cues and established the routine of
the play, which was passing, poking, and pretending not to know
anything. As Katie changed the poking play into tickling, Matt con-
tinued to be the follower of her action. The play contained elements
of waiting, surprising, and excitement for both Matt and Katie. The
role of leader required the teachers to actively initiate the play in
which both the teachers and the infants shared emotionally inti-
mate moments.

2.1.7. Safety/conflict manager
When there were safety issues or toy conflicts in play, the

teachers assumed the role of safety/conflict manager to solve the
issues. However, Irene pointed out, “Balancing between safety and

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92 J. Jung / Early Childhood Rese

hallenge is very important” because learning sometimes required
isk-taking. Also, some infants such as Isabel always preferred chal-
enges, “Otherwise they get bored.” Therefore, the role of safety

anager was to find the right balance between safety and chal-
enge, so that the infants were able to handle for further learning
xperiences. On the other hand, when the infants encountered a
oy conflict, the teachers promptly intervened as shown in the next

“Katie saw Isabel grabbing an younger infant’s toy. Katie gently
said to Isabel, “Hey, Sophie’s playing with it. Don’t grab it from
her” and showed two animal toys, asking, “Do you want to play
with monkey or giraffe? You can’t take it from her because she’s
playing with it.” Isabel took them all and let go of the toy. Isabel
shook her body and the animals. Katie also shook a toy, saying
“Shake shake!”” [W3 EP 31]

Instead of forcefully taking the toy from Isabel, Katie explained
he circumstance to her and suggested other toys to solve the con-
ict. Katie did not leave Isabel feeling helpless but supported her to
ontinue her play using alternative toys. The role of safety/conflict
anager was not to break the flow of the infants’ play but to sustain

heir interest in play in constructive ways.

.1.8. Play interrupter
The teachers rarely disturbed the infant’s play, yet their involve-

ent sometimes did not sustain the play but brought it to an end.
t occurred mostly in the beginning of the year when the teachers
id not understand individual infants’ cues or when the teachers
rought their own agenda to the play. The following episode illus-
rates how Irene shifted her role back to the observer after her quick
nvolvement ended Ava’s play.

“Irene said, “Hi Ava! How are you?” Ava looked at her, went
to the hallway, and came back with a toy fruit. Irene hugged
her. They smiled. Irene pointed at the fruit, asking her, “Is that
a pineapple?” Ava did not respond. Irene answered, “No. Is that
tomato? No.” Then, Ava went to the hallway. Irene stood by the
door, watching her. In a few minutes, Ava returned to the room
and sat by a matching box. Irene continued to observe her.” [W3
EP 18]

When Ava brought the toy to Irene, Irene immediately started
he naming play with her, which did not draw Ava’s attention. As
va left, Irene refocused on observing her play. Irene said that she
sed to “always interrupt their play” because she used to look for
the one right answer” in children’s play and “couldn’t wait for
hem.” She indicated that her “belief and practices changed over
he years.” She now strives “to wait and observe the baby” because
he infants were not passive but capable beings and she now “trusts
abies and their ability.”

.1.9. Multiple-responder
When the infants found other infant–teacher play interesting

nd joined the play, the teachers became multiple-responders,
esponding to multiple infants in play. Under such circumstances,
he teachers were not able to extend their interactions with an indi-
idual infant due to the increasing demands by multiple infants.
hus, their main strategy was to promptly provide verbal responses
o each infant’s cues and to maintain the play with no conflict,
hereby sustaining the infants’ interest in the play.

“Matt brought Katie the animal puzzle board. She said, “Where
are the plastic pieces?” Matt pointed at the board, “Ra!” Katie

said, “The tiger goes ra?” Isabel and Ava looked at them. Matt
pointed at an elephant. Katie said, “And the elephant moves,”
gesturing like an elephant. Isabel pointed at the board. Katie
said, “That’s a giraffe.” Isabel brought her a toy giraffe. Katie

uarterly 28 (2013) 187–198

said, “And this is the giraffe.” Matt walked around the room,
saying “Ra!” Isabel showed Katie a toy monkey. Katie pointed
at the board, “Oh, there is a monkey!” mimicking its sound. Ava
showed her a tiger piece. Katie said “Roar! Roar!” Then, an infant
took away the board.” [W10 EP 106]

When Matt first brought the board, Katie took a proactive
approach, asking the question and providing the elaborated com-
ments with gestures. As Ava and Isabel joined the play, Katie
responded to multiple infants’ successive cues. Gradually, she
became somewhat reactive rather than proactive, providing instant
but not elaborated comments, and was not able to expand her inter-
actions with each infant. However, her vigilant responses to each
infant’s cues enabled the infants to remain focused and interested
in the play.

2.1.10. Multiple-role taker
According to the infants’ changing intentions, interest, and

needs during play, the teachers flexibly shifted their roles, becom-
ing a multiple-role taker as shown in the next episode.

“Emily was sitting on a floor. Ava brought two baby dolls. Emily
gently took one of them, saying “That’s your baby? You want
me to take care of her?” Emily rocked the doll in her arms and
gave it back to Ava. Ava dropped it on the floor. Emily said, “Baby
ouch! Baby fall down. Then shall we put them to sleep? Night,
night?” Emily covered the doll with a blanket. Ava watched her,
and walked away with the other doll. Ava came back to her
with a doll in a stroller. Emily said, “Oh, do you want a baby
in your stroller?” Emily took the doll on the floor and put it in
the stroller. Ava gave her doll to Emily. Emily put it back in the
stroller, saying “Two babies in the stroller!” Ava started pushing
the stroller, saying “Ba∼” and Emily said, “Bye Ava!”” [W4 EP 41]
When Ava showed Emily the dolls, Emily took on the role of com-

mentator/interpreter by questioning Ava’s play. Then Emily shifted
to the role of facilitator by modeling rocking the baby and suggest-
ing a new idea of putting the doll to sleep. As Ava came back with
a stroller, Emily assumed the role of commentator and supporter
by questioning her play and offering the doll to Ava. With Emily’s
final comments on Ava’s baby dolls, the play ended. The teachers’
multiple-role taking appeared to help enrich the infants’ play and
it entailed the teachers’ sensitive responses and understandings of
infants’ changing play themes, interests, and needs.

2.2. The changing nature of teachers’ roles

Even though the previously described teachers’ roles were man-
ifested throughout the study, each role appeared more salient
than others at different points during the research period. Such
changes in the teachers’ highlighted roles occurred in relation to
teacher–infant relationships and infants’ rapid growth, which will
be discussed in this section.

2.2.1. Teachers’ relationship with their key infants
In this study, the infants (Isabel, Matt, Ava) were returning from

the previous year. Since the teachers had not been the primary
caregivers to their key infants in the previous year, they viewed
their relationships as newly beginning with their key infants as the
infants returned to the center after a summer break. Analysis of the
infant–teacher relationship was guided by Lee’s (2006) study on
infant–caregiver relationships. Lee presented relationship devel-
opment as a process that infants and their primary caregivers took

time to build while their level of understanding, comfort, respon-
siveness, affection, and trust toward each other was changed and
enhanced. Based on these elements, the teachers’ relationships
with their key infants in this study developed as follows: For the

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J. Jung / Early Childhood Rese

rst one to two weeks (week one and two), their relationship was
eginning. Both the teachers and the infants were in an initial pro-
ess of learning about and adjusting to each other. The infants were
ware of their key teachers’ presence but mostly played alone and
howed little interest in them. The teachers also did not actively
articipate in their play but mostly observed them, offering sup-
ort when needed; From weeks two through four, their relationship
radually advanced through responsive interactions during play.
he infants felt comfortable with the teachers’ presence, responded
o their comments and actions, and initiated play with the teach-
rs. The teachers responsively got engaged in the infants’ play.
heir interactions were more frequent, joyful, and pleasant. Play
lso lasted longer than before. However, they misunderstood each
ther’s cues at times and still strived to establish their relation-
hips; From weeks four through seven, the relationship between
he teachers and their key infants was firmly established. The
nfants trusted the teachers and relied upon them for support.
hey also became confident playing by themselves. Being knowl-
dgeable about each other, the teachers and the infants often got
ngaged in extended play, showing the most responsive actions
o each other. They became very affectionate, sharing emotionally
ntimate moments during play. As the teachers’ developed rela-
ionships with the infants, their role-taking in the infants’ play also

For the first two weeks (week one and two) when the teachers
nd the infants were in the process of learning about and adjusting
o each other, the teachers mainly assumed the roles of observer,
upporter, and commentator/interpreter. The following episode
llustrates the moment when Katie and her key infant, Isabel, met
or the first time in the fall.

“Isabel tapped the ball and threw it. Katie said “ball.” Isabel did
not look at her but continued to play by herself, then went to the
dramatic area. Katie quietly followed her. Isabel stayed there for
a few minutes and moved to another area. Katie continued to
watch her for a few minutes and sat down about one foot away
from Isabel.” [W1 EP 1]

Katie remained observant and intervened very minimally by
ommenting while allowing Isabel to explore the setting. Emily
xplained the importance of observation in the beginning of the
elationship process.

“You are really taking a lot of time to learn about them when
they start. So I do a lot more observer. With the last few days,
these guys [returning infants] are starting back. There’s been a
lot less interaction with the kids and that grows as you get to
know the kids and as they get to know you.” (Interview #1)

In the beginning stage, the role of observer served as a main
ool for the teachers to learn about individual infants as well as
o create a space for the infants to become familiar with their
ew key caregivers and environment. The teachers also provided
hysical and emotional support whenever needed without directly
ngaging with the infants. Their purpose of support was to make a
safe” (Emily) environment for the infants to adjust to the new set-
ing. Taking on the role of commentator/interpreter, the teachers
ttempted to initiate communication with the infants during play.
atie said, “At first it was just a trial and error. We don’t know what
e mean to each other. . . After a week, two weeks. . .we come to

uild the foundation of understanding each other. . .[It happens]
hrough spending time with the kids.” A considerable amount of
ime and effort from both parties, the teachers and the infants, was
ecessary for establishing shared communications. From the begin-

ing stage, the teachers used the role of commentator/interpreter
o make initial communicative connections with the infants during
lay. In sum, the teachers’ emerging roles during this period served

uarterly 28 (2013) 187–198 193

three purposes: learning about the infants, helping the infants to
feel secure and adjust to the social/physical environment, and striv-
ing to make initial connections.

From weeks two through four, as their relationship gradu-
ally advanced through responsive interactions during play, the
teachers became more actively involved in the infants’ play (e.g.,
pushing dolls in strollers, riding a slide, rolling balls, rowing a
boat with singing) and took on more diverse roles in addition to
observer, supporter, and commentator/interpreter, such as play
follower/partner and, at times, facilitator. The teachers believed
in the value of infant–teacher play in building the relationship.
Katie said, “Through play, we [Katie and her key infant, Isabel]
were able to form that bond and sense each other out. . .Last week
when we first met. . .we figured out our cues to each other through
that thing [peek-a-boo play].” Irene also said, “With teachers’ good
responses to what infants really want, play can continue and infants
will be satisfied. If these moments occur more than a couple of
times, the babies will form a great relationship with their care-
givers.” Irene continued to explain that “Isabel likes Katie because
Katie is a great playmate to her and Ava follows me well because I
matched her interests and needs in the beginning of the semester.”
Teacher–infant play was a good opportunity for the teachers and
the infants to communicate and gain a better understanding about
each other. Also, the teachers’ responsiveness to the infants dur-
ing play conveyed a sense of caring, crucial for the infants’ trust
in the teachers. At this stage, the teachers were more actively
involved in the infants’ play and the role of play partner/follower
saliently emerged. The following episode occurred in the third

“Isabel was hanging onto the bar of the slide, swinging her body.
Katie looked at her, sat close to the bar, and started mirror-
ing Isabel’s actions. Katie smiled and opened her eyes big. As
Isabel repeated the actions, Isabel intentionally moved her head
between the bars, expecting Katie to follow her moves. Soon,
their play became the ‘searching for each other’ game and pro-
gressed with a lot of giggles. Then, Isabel stopped and shook her
body as if she wanted to say ‘I am feeling good.”’ [W3 EP 26]

As Katie took on the role of follower/partner, her facial expres-
sions and copying actions served as a cue for playfulness, which was
well received by Isabel. As Isabel initiated a new action of moving
her head, Katie accepted it as a cue for new play and validated her
interest by copying it. As such, they constantly communicated with
each other through cues and collaboratively advanced into interac-
tive play, sharing intimate moments. The role of follower/partner
entailed both the teacher’s and the infant’s active engagement in
play, creating the space where they enhanced their mutual under-
standing and affection, gradually building their relationship. In
addition, the role of facilitator began appearing at this stage as
shown in the next episode.

“Emily showed Matt a toy car, “Now I have a blue car, Matt.”
Matt exclaimed “Kiyaaaa,” rolled it on the slide, and sat in front
of Emily. She said, “Oh, you are just gonna sit in front of me?” He
tried to grab a ball basket and missed it. Emily smiled, saying, “I
saw you almost fall down. There is the beach ball.” Emily threw a
ball into the basket. Matt smiled and picked two balls. Emily said,
“Now you have two balls!” Matt cautiously walked up the steps
of the slide. Emily said, “Do you need the ball on the top. . .?”
Matt got to the top and rolled them down on the slide. Both
Emily and Matt exclaimed, “Wow!” Matt slid down the slide.”
[W4 EP 34]

Without Matt’s initiative, Emily took a proactive approach to
facilitate Matt’s play based on his interest (car, ball) and ability
(throwing), an understanding of which she gained over time. Matt

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Furthermore, the teachers still showed the most supportive and

94 J. Jung / Early Childhood Rese

nstantly took her suggestion and modeling, and further developed
t into his own play (rolling the balls on the slide). Such teachers’
roactive involvement and infants’ responsiveness was possible
ue to their developing relationship. Emily explained, “You are
ot gonna be able to play unless they like being with you and
hey trust you. You can’t do a teaching part without having that
elationship to start with.” Infant–teacher relationship was the
oundation for learning through play because the infants needed
o feel secure with taking ideas/actions suggested by the teach-
rs. Thus, the role of facilitator started appearing as the teachers
nd the infants gradually gained mutual understandings and began
eveloping their relationship. In sum, at this stage, the teachers’
aking on the roles led to more infant–teacher interactions and a
igh degree of teacher–infant engagement in play, building their

From weeks four through seven, when the teachers and their
ey infants further established firm relationships with each other,
he teachers assumed the greatest variety of roles (observer,
upporter, commentator/interpreter, follower/partner, facilitator,
eader, multiple-role taker) and formed several play repertoires

ith their key infants (pointing-answering play, hide-and-seek,
inging and moving, rocking-baby). First, the role of play leader
aliently emerged at this time.

“Isabel, sitting on Katie’s lap, babbled loudly. Katie said, “What
are you yelling about?” Katie started rocking Isabel in her arms,
“Night night baby.” Isabel smiled at her. Katie said, “Are you
waking up? Good morning! Rock-a-bye baby. . .” Finishing the
song, Katie shook Isabel’s body. They laughed together. Katie
started rocking her again. As Katie finished it, Isabel said “Da
de.” Katie said, “again again?” Katie rocked her again. Isabel said,
“Dey dey dey.” Katie said, “Again again again?” As a younger
infant crawled to them, Katie hugged Isabel and Isabel crawled
away.”[W5 EP 73]

Katie’s active lead with such a high level of emotional intensity
id not appear in her play with any other infant but Isabel. There
as a shared understanding and trust that such physical movement
ould lead to playfulness and excitement. The active play led by the

eachers brought a sense of affection and intimacy for both of them
nd frequently appeared as they established a closer relationship
ith each other. Second, the role of multiple-role taker saliently


“Matt gave Emily an egg carton. She smiled, saying “Thank you
for the breakfast!” He gave her a paper brick. She put it on the
floor, saying “Thank you.” He walked toward the brick piles. She
said, “You need another one so that there is one more on the
top?” He tossed a brick to her and walked toward her opposite
side. She said, “Matt, I am here! Don’t throw it too hard. It is
a brick.” From then on, Matt continued bringing her the bricks
and Emily built them up, calling out “Four, five. . .Getting taller!”
Ava was about to push the building. Emily said, “Wait Ava. Matt
is bringing more.” Isabel joined the play. Emily said, “Are you
helping us, Isabel? Seven! Wait. Matt has number ten. Then we
should knock it down.” As Matt brought the last piece, Emily
said, “Shall we knock it down?” Matt slowly pushed the build-
ing. Ava threw her spoon to the bricks. They laughed together.
The infants started building on their own. Emily started taking
pictures, commenting on their play.” [W11 EP 110]

When Matt gave the brick to Emily, his play seemed to end up in
usual give-and-take play with her. But, Emily, as a facilitator, mod-
led building the tower to spark his interest. Then, she commented
n Matt’s action, enhancing his motivation for the play and redirect-

ng his attention. She also managed the safety by telling him not to
hrow the bricks. When Ava and Isabel approached, Emily became

multiple-responder to maintain the play under her lead. This

uarterly 28 (2013) 187–198

extended collaborative play was possible not only because Emily
flexibly supported Matt’s play but because they understood each
other’s cues, shared the same goal, and took pleasure in working
together, which was founded on the trust they had built by then.
Emily reflected that such mutual understanding and trust took a
while because he was a bit “timid.” She said, “As we were getting to
know him, he was really taking the time to get to know everybody.”
Over time, she gained in-depth understanding about his emotional
needs, “skills,” “strength,” “interest,” and “growth,” and established
a relationship with Matt, thereby supporting his play responsively,
flexibly, and proactively.

2.2.2. Teachers’ relationships with other infants
While the teachers were working toward establishing relation-

ships with their key infants, their involvement in other infants’ play
was somewhat brief and observant. The teachers felt that their play
with the others did not extend due to their lack of knowledge about
those infants. Katie said, “My interactions with other kids [Ava,
Matt] are more superficial. I don’t really know what skills they are
able to do, so it’s more trial and error.” Irene also said, “When I
play with Ava, the play lasts quite well and I see the play develop.
But with Matt, I felt that my interaction with him does not con-
tinue for a long time.” As the teachers formed special relationships
with their key infants, both the teachers and the infants gradually
began expanding their relationships to others. The teachers per-
ceived the importance of their relationships with multiple infants.
Emily explained,

“I want the kids to look [to] more than one person for care. Some-
times you won’t see it until a moment of stress. Last summer,
everybody commented on how easy the kids were. One day,
Danny was a little under the weather and he only wanted to sit
with me and I was the only one who could do things for him.
It’s very easy to form [the relationship] with some [kids]. [But]
I’ve definitely been, almost forcing myself toward the ones that
I don’t feel as close to.” (Interview #1)

Even though the teachers acknowledged an easiness of rela-
tionship building with particular infants, they considered multiple
attachments vital to infants’ sense of security in a group-care set-
ting. Thus, they consciously strived to spend more time in playing
with ‘other’ infants as their relationships with the key infants
were established and the infants became confident and indepen-
dent. Table 2 displays the total number of play episodes between
the teachers and their key infants over the 12-week period. It
shows a somewhat higher frequency for the teacher-key infant play
episodes than that of ‘other’ infants until weeks six. But a decrease
in the play episodes with key infants gradually appeared from
weeks nine on, which was attributed to the teachers’ newly devel-
oping relationships with other infants. However, when the infants
were in need of support during play (e.g., getting into trouble, feel-
ing uncertain, striving to accomplish something) and sent a cue
(eye gazing, finger pointing, babbling) to their key caregivers, the
teachers, keenly aware of their key infant’s whereabouts, promptly
responded to them. In the observation notes, I wrote,

“Katie really made an effort to click with other infants through
play. At the same time, Katie tried not to lose her “clicked” rela-
tionship with Isabel by embracing her, always checking on her,
and having eye contact with her even when playing with other
infants.” (Weeks seven, Oct.15)

responsive role-taking in play with their key infants when they
were given a chance to play one-on-one without any interruption
as shown in the next episode.

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J. Jung / Early Childhood Rese

“This morning, Isabel was uneasy and cried a lot. As Katie came
to the room, she tossed a paper towel to Isabel, held her, and took
her to the kitchen where the infants were making playdough.
As Isabel did not show any interest, Katie playfully patted and
squeezed the dough with Isabel’s hands. Isabel started playing
with it by herself and finally smiled. Then, she walked out and
began exploring piled-up toys and play equipment in a quiet
hallway. She looked, touched, manipulated, and pulled the toys.
Meanwhile, Katie sensitively supported her exploration, made
comments and suggestions, guided her play in a safe way. They
fully focused on the play and smiled at each other at times. The
play continued for about 15 minutes without any interruption.”
[W10 EP 116]

This episode occurred during week 10 when Katie spent much
ime playing with ‘other’ infants. However, when her key child,
sabel, was emotionally distressed, Katie supported her through
lay while sensitively and proactively taking on the roles of leader,
acilitator, supporter, and commentator. Consequently, Isabel felt
efreshed from an unhappy mood and played with a high level of
ocus for an extended period of time. The teachers continued to
emain as the most reliable source of support for their key infants
nd their relationships were maintained through play even when
hey expanded their relationships to ‘other’ infants.

.2.3. Infant rapid growth
As time progressed, the infants’ (Isabel, Ava, Matt) growing

ocial awareness occasionally changed the teacher–infant one-
n-one play into one-on-two (or more) play, contributing to the
ppearance of the teachers’ role of multiple-responder. Katie said,
Recently when I play with one, the other usually comes and
atches. With rocking the baby [doll], I was with Matt and Ava
as watching. Then she wanted to join. So it ended up the three of
s.” During the first five weeks, the teacher–infant play was mostly
yadic, in which the teachers were deeply and proactively engaged
ith their key infants, taking on various roles to respond to their

ey infant’s changing needs and interests. From week four at the
arliest, the infants started showing an interest in joining other
nfant–teacher play, which transformed the dyadic nature of the
eacher–infant play into one-on-multiple play. As aforementioned,
he one-on-multiple play in which the teachers assumed a role of

ultiple-responder entailed challenges and rarely developed into
n-depth play [See vignette W8 EP 81 in the section of multiple-
esponder]. Furthermore, due to additional infants joining and the
ubsequent lack of attention from the teachers, the infants at times
ost their interest and left the play as shown in the next episode.

“Isabel brought a big transparent ball close to Emily’s face. Emily
put it right on her face and looked at Isabel through the ball,
smiling. Then, Isabel took her hands off of the ball. Emily put
it on Isabel’s face, then on top of her head, showing it to her.
Ava watched them and came to Emily. Emily said, “Shall I try
it?” Emily put the ball on Ava’s face and then on top of her head.
Ava took the ball from Emily and copied her. Emily smiled at her,
saying, “Looks very silly when you put it over there.” Meanwhile,
Isabel wandered about.” [W6 EP 66]

As Isabel invited Emily to her exploratory play, the play became
nteractive between her and Emily. However, as Ava joined the play,
mily shifted her attention to Ava, responding to her interest. How-
ver, Emily’s play with Isabel did not develop further and Isabel lost
nterest in the play.

In addition, the younger infants’ (prone, sitters, and crawlers)

apid growth changed the nature of the teachers’ roles into one
ess proactive. From the second month, the younger infants, all
f whom were new to the setting, became adjusted to the set-
ing and gradually spent more time awake, actively exploring the

uarterly 28 (2013) 187–198 195

environment. Since the younger infants had more challenges with
mobility than the older infants, they were in more immediate need
of help than the older infants (Isabel, Matt, Ava) who had gained
confidence and independence in play by then. Emily said,

“It’s [the slide] a big part of the room. There are so many ways
you can engage with the slide. Older ones go up and down, bring
stuff up and put toys down the slide, which is great. But. . .[for
the younger ones], just climbing up and getting off the slide is a
big challenge.” (Interview #3)

As the younger infants became more alert, actively playing in the
room, the teachers spent more time in helping them to adjust (e.g.,
carrying, positioning, holding) to the environment where the older
infants dominated. Subsequently, the teachers spent less time play-
ing with the older infants. [Table 2 shows the increase in the total
number of teachers’ play episodes with all three infants until weeks
five and the decreasing number of episodes from weeks six.] When
the teachers were physically occupied with the younger infants,
they mainly used elaborated comments/interpretations because it
enabled them to support the older infants from a distance while
taking care of the younger infants. The emergence of the teachers’
role-taking was possible due to the infants’ rapid language acquisi-
tion. Emily said, “They are starting to say more, understand more.”
Katie said, “They are becoming more verbal. It’s becoming less non-
verbal cues.” However, the teachers’ physical occupation with the
younger infants limited the range of their involvement in the older
infants’ play, as shown in the next episode.

“Katie, holding a younger infant in her arms, said to Isabel, “Hi,
Isabel. What are you doing? Are you building on some blocks?”
Isabel built a tall building. Katie pleasantly said to her, “That’s
a big tower, Isabel!” Isabel sat on a block and said “Row row
row,” looking at her. Katie smiled at her. Isabel kept looking at
her, smiled, and tapped her feet on the floor. Then, she wandered
about, threw a ball on the floor, and said, “Boo!” Isabel looked at
Katie. Katie, feeding the infant, said, “Boo boo!” Isabel threw a
ball. Katie said, “Where is it now? Boo∼” Isabel looked at Katie,
threw a ball, and sat down on the block.” [W10 EP 100]

Even though Katie tried to encourage Isabel’s interest by com-
menting on her play and echoing her babbling, she was not deeply
involved to extend Isabel’s imaginative play of rowing the boat or
building a tower due to her limited role-playing.

Taken together, the teachers changed their roles according to
the infants’ rapid growth, subsequent changes in infant group
dynamics, and their relationships with the infants. By weeks seven,
all three infants (Isabel, Matt, Ava) became adjusted to the set-
ting and developed the relationships with their key teachers. The
teachers also gradually shifted their roles in play from observer to
active roles such as play partner/follower, facilitator, leader, and
multiple-role taker in play with their key infants. Simultaneously,
the teachers became more interactive, facilitative, proactive, and
playful. However, as they established relationships with their key
infants and the infants became confident and independent, the
teachers started expanding their relationships with ‘others’ than
their key child. Therefore, the teachers became less involved in their
‘key’ infants’ play and more involved with ‘other’ infants. However,
given the chance of one-on-one play with their key infants, the
teachers showed the most sensitive and responsive role-taking in
the play with their key infants. The teachers’ roles in play changed
and developed over time in the dynamic infant group care setting,
which was echoed by Emily during an interview.

“My practice in play seems to have changed over time. Defi-
nitely, it’s influenced by everything in the classroom. The kids
become more comfortable when they get to know you, just as
you get to know them. They are also continuously developing

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96 J. Jung / Early Childhood Rese

for the whole time. Just since last time we talked [in September],
each one of them is in such a different level of play, skills, and
learning than they were then. . . It’s very natural to see that
increase in relationships happening. . .So I’m unconsciously giv-
ing them more when I play with them.” (Interview #2)

. Discussion

This study revealed that the infants’ teachers demonstrated
roactive and responsive participation in infant play, taking on
oles as observer, supporter, commentator/interpreter, play fol-
ower/play partner, facilitator, play leader, safety/conflict manager,
lay interrupter, multiple-responder, and multiple-role taker. In

ight of infants’ interests, needs, and developmental status, the
eachers selectively took on these roles, often shifting among
hem, to enrich and advance the infants’ play. Also, depending
n each circumstance at the moment of play, the teachers cre-
tively assumed particular roles to maximize the support for all the
nfants under their care. The present findings suggest that teachers
urposefully and professionally undertake various “good-fit” roles
o provide play-based learning experiences for infants (Trawick-
mith & Dziurgot, 2010, p.106).

The findings showed that teachers’ role-taking provided oppor-
unities for both infants and teachers to intensely experience
nd learn about each other, thereby enhancing their relationship.
he teachers’ involvement in infants’ play often drew the infants’
esponses and collaboration, advancing to playful interactions. In
he course of interactions, the teachers and the infants read each
ther’s cues, anticipated their counterpart’s responses, adjusted
heir own responses, and were in sync at the moment of the play
Lee, 2006). The teachers’ consistent affectionate and nurturing
ttitudes helped maintain emotionally rich play that appeared to
acilitate the infants’ experience of the teachers as less intimidating
nd more positive. Lending support to Degotardi’s (2010) finding
hat high-quality interactions between teachers and infants occur
uring play, the present study further suggests that play is a solid
round for furthering infant–teacher relationships in which both
nfants’ and teachers’ mutual communications and understandings
ositively experienced.

The present study unveiled some challenging aspects of teach-
rs’ roles, interconnected with dynamic factors inherent in group
are settings, such as the development of infant–teacher relation-
hips, infants’ rapid growth, and subsequent changes in group
ynamics. The teachers’ roles in play multiplied along with their
eveloping relationships with the infants, and the roles naturally
volved from observant and responsive to proactive, interactive,
acilitative, playful, and deeply engaged. Despite the teachers’
xpanding relationships to ‘other’ infants and their decreased par-
icipation in their key infants’ play, they continued to take on
he most sensitive and responsive roles in their key infants’ play.
his finding indicated that the primary caregiver–infant relation-
hip was maintained through play since the teachers had the best
nowledge of their key infants, consistently providing them with
he most reliable and essential support in the midst of challenges
uch as changing relationships and group dynamics (Bernhardt,
000; Ebbeck & Yim, 2009; Margetts, 2005; Theilheimer, 2006).
upporting Lee’s (2006, p.145) argument that “a firm relationship
ith the infant” is indispensable for caregivers’ diverse roles such

s “physical and emotional carer, playmate, resource, and teacher,”
he present study further suggests that infant–teacher relationship
nd teachers’ role-taking in play interactively reinforce each other

o influence infants’ development.
Over the three-month period, the teachers constantly adapted

nd modified their practice in response to the infants’ rapid growth.
or example, in accordance with the younger infants’ adjustment

uarterly 28 (2013) 187–198

to the setting and the older infants’ developing language abilities,
the teachers mainly used the role of commentator/interpreter to
support the older infants in play when they were physically occu-
pied with the younger infants. Also, the infants’ growing social
awareness altered the group dynamics during play, adding more
demands on the teachers. Thus, the teachers took on the role of
multiple-responder, becoming responsive and somewhat reactive.
Researchers suggest that low infant–teacher ratios are what afford
teachers the time and energy to provide sufficient attention to
individual children to become responsive to their needs (Ahnert
et al., 2006; Goossens & van IJzendorn, 1990; Howes, 1983; NICHD
ECCRN, 1996). This study revealed that in a setting with a low
infant–teacher ratio, the teachers’ responsiveness was consistently
maintained, but the level of their proactive involvement in play
fluctuated somewhat depending on the number of infants with
whom they interacted.

A majority of the existing studies on child care quality use
quantifiable rating scales to measure teachers’ characteristics
such as responsiveness and sensitivity. Rating systems provide a
convenient “snapshot view” of assessment at the time of the mea-
surement (Fenech et al., 2010, p.292). However, the rating systems
may miss teachers’ behaviors that do not fall into their predeter-
mined categories, but those behaviors may contain meaningful
intentions. Also, an assessment of child care quality based on a
short duration of observations may not fully capture the whole
picture of teachers’ practice (e.g. where, how long, why, and what
teachers do). As seen in this study, teachers’ practice constantly
changes in connection with the dynamic elements inherent in
infant group care settings. Therefore, in order to uncover infant
teachers’ practice and their complex process, the present findings
suggest qualitative case study as a supplemental method to provide
rich descriptions and deeper understandings of infant teachers’
practice and their rationales for the choices they make in light of
their situated group care settings.

Currently, in the field of infant care and education, quality teach-
ers’ practice is essentialized as sensitive and responsive caregiving
based on a solid infant–teacher relationship (McMullen & Dixon,
2006; Wittmer & Petersen, 2010). However, the measures of quality
caregiving practices are sometimes simplified as teachers’ indi-
vidual qualifications or setting characteristics such as a “good”
infant–teacher ratio (3:1 or less). Although these elements are
important factors in a quality caregiving environment, the present
study argues that the infant group care context is multilayered and
that teachers’ practice is far more complicated than these measures
reflect. Infants’ rapid growth, developmental gaps, group dynamics,
and expanding relationships delineate infant care contexts in stark
contrast to regular preschool settings and parenting at home. These
elements are not static, but dynamically changing and evolving. In
order to respond to these changes, teachers must constantly and
creatively modify and develop their practice. Furthermore, these
elements, inherent in group care settings, are tightly interrelated,
influencing one another’s growth as if they were a living organism.
The failure to recognize one single element may have an immediate
impact on all the rest. For instance, one teacher’s insensitivity and
laissez-faire attitude toward her key infant during play might make
that infant turn to other teachers, placing more demands on them.
Subsequently, these teachers might need to reduce time with their
key infants, providing them less support emotionally, physically,
and cognitively, which might eventually have a negative impact on
the entire group dynamic. To keep this sensitive organism in qual-
ity condition, infant teachers should work collaboratively to take a
holistic view on all of these elements in their group care settings.

Recently, there has been a growing interest and support for
the professionalism of infant teachers in the United States and
elsewhere, such as Australia, Europe, and New Zealand (Abbott
& Langston, 2005; Branscomb & Ethridge, 2010; Manning-Morton,

arch Q


















J. Jung / Early Childhood Rese

006; Norris, 2006; Ota, Dicarlo, Burts, Laird, & Gioe, 2006; Rockel,
009). The findings from the present study suggest that the
ollowing characteristics be considered as highly important compe-
encies for infant teachers: intellectual sensitivity, knowledge, and
nsights regarding individual infant development and characteris-
ics; vigilance, responsiveness, and flexibility to adapt to infant’s
apid development; creativity to develop new ways of interacting
ith fast growing infants; skills to strategically and appropriately

espond and cope with multiple infants’ diverse needs and inter-
sts; teaching practice in diverse settings; and empathic warmth
nd an affectionate attitude toward every infant. The multidimen-
ional nature of infant teaching and caring must be taken into
ccount in preparing infant teachers for the roles that they will
ake on in supporting infant learning through play.

.1. Directions for future research

The present study took a holistic approach to provide a rich
escription of complexities that are inherent in infant teachers’
ractice. Findings from the study extend our understandings of
ow these teachers responded to the infants in their care on a daily
asis. As this study was contextualized within a particular setting,
ome aspects of the findings may not translate to other infant care
ettings. However, given the routine nature of caring for young chil-
ren, it is likely that other infant teachers will share many of these

This study was a first step in exploring in depth the roles that
nfant teachers take on in playful caregiving. Future research into
eachers’ practice of this nature might extend to more diverse
ettings (e.g. culture, infant–teacher ratio, teachers’ educational
ackground), or continue for a longer period of time to provide
ore insights into teaching and caring within infant group care.
iven the increasing attention to younger infants (prone, sitters,
nd crawlers) as capable and active players, teachers’ perceptions
f and roles in younger infants’ play might also provide a fruitful
venue for future research.


The author would like to express sincere appreciation to Dr.
usan Recchia, Associate Professor of Education and Faculty Direc-
or of the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center, and Dr. Celia Genishi,
rofessor of Education, at Teachers College, Columbia University,
or their intellectual guidance and encouragement in publishing
his article.


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  • Teachers’ roles in infants’ play and its changing nature in a dynamic group care context
    • 1 Method
      • 1.1 Site and participants
      • 1.2 Data sources and analysis
    • 2 Results
      • 2.1 Teachers’ roles in play
        • 2.1.1 Observer
        • 2.1.2 Play supporter – material/emotional/physical supporter
        • 2.1.3 Commentator/interpreter
        • 2.1.4 Play follower and play partner
        • 2.1.5 Facilitator
        • 2.1.6 Play leader
        • 2.1.7 Safety/conflict manager
        • 2.1.8 Play interrupter
        • 2.1.9 Multiple-responder
        • 2.1.10 Multiple-role taker
      • 2.2 The changing nature of teachers’ roles
        • 2.2.1 Teachers’ relationship with their key infants
        • 2.2.2 Teachers’ relationships with other infants
        • 2.2.3 Infant rapid growth
    • 3 Discussion
      • 3.1 Directions for future research
    • Acknowledgement
    • References

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