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Reprinted with permission from Exchange magazine. Visit us at www.ChildCareExchange.com or call (800) 221-2864. Multiple use copy agreement available for educators by request.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BONNIE NEUGEBAUER

Beginnings Workshop
Janet Gonzalez-Mena is an infanttoddler expert with an MA in Human Development who studied with Magda Gerber and in Budapest at the Pikler Institute. She wrote Honoring Differences: Diversity in Early Care and Education and also Dragon Mom about herself as a parent. She is a co-author of Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers.

Cultural responsiveness and routines: When center and home dont match
by Janet Gonzalez-Mena
The center is always talking about time! complained a Native American mother to me when I was visiting the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. What do you mean? I asked, eager to understand. Well, they have this schedule up on the wall and its all about time. First theres breakfast time, then circle time, then snack time, then outdoor time. . . . See what I mean? Oh, I said waiting for more. And they always announce it that way Nap time! they say to the children. Or Its time to go outside. That doesnt feel comfortable to you, I said, hoping to hear what the problem was. Well, thats not the way we organize our lives at home. Its more of a rhythm, a free flow and has nothing to do with time. She paused, We just do what we feel like and we dont have a schedule. We dont go by the clock! Whenever I look at the paper on the wall, Im thinking that Im supposed to have a schedule at home like they do in the center and that just doesnt work for me or my family! I wasnt able to pursue this issue further, but I urged the mother to talk to the director; I hope she did. Perhaps they were able to sort things out between them. I didnt observe in the program so I wasnt able to see if there was pressure to stick to the schedule. I dont know if teachers kept referring to the clock on the wall, or their watches. I dont know if they really did expect the mother to have a schedule at home as she had suspected. Its possible that what she perceived as a problem was just an issue of a language difference. This same issue came up when I was working with a Spanish-speaking staff member back at the beginning of my career. As the English-speaker on the staff who was trained in ECE, I was the one with the terminology and it all had to be translated into Spanish. We ran into difficulty because the routines of the program all had the word time connected to them and this didnt make any sense in Spanish. These two incidents got me thinking about time and how it works in my culture European-American culture. Then I discovered Edward T. Hall who wrote a whole book about cultural differences in time called The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time (1984). It occurred to me that the problem was that my culture puts a strong focus on time not just on clocks, but on the concept of time as a commodity as something real that can be lost or saved. I spend time like I spend money. Sometimes I waste it, too. Not everybody in the world looks at time that way. The very title of Halls book gives a clue to the way the mother I talked to saw time as a dance of life. What we call routines and add the word time to them was for her a rhythm, a dance her daily life! As a person especially interested in infant/toddler care and education, Ive done a lot of thinking about routines, schedules, and rhythms. I have been writing about infant-toddler caregiving for a long time and am pleased that I can now recognize areas of cultural specificity - that is, specific to my culture areas that the field pretty much agrees on. We dont see the standards and regulations of the field as culturally based, but they are. We think of our profession as based on research and the basic ideas as universal. We may also consider cultural differences, but we dont think of the whole profession as culturally specific. Ive learned to ask the question, who did the research and on whom?

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That doesnt mean that were all in agreement on the question of schedules and routines for babies and young children. That issue has long been debated among people of my culture, but in general most programs have some kind of schedule, even if they allow babies and older children their individual rhythms within it. Certainly as a mother I thought my children needed some kind of schedule; if not by the clock, at least a sequence of happenings that made a routine we could predict and depend on. I thought they needed a sense of order to give them security, and if they didnt have it naturally, it was up to me to give it to them. As a preschool teacher, I learned I was right: It is important for childrens cognitive development that they learn about sequence. What I didnt learn was that different cultures have different ideas about time, clocks, routines, and maybe sequence. So the question with the mothers concern over the centers schedule, as compared to the routine she had at home, was perhaps resolved by the director and the mother sitting down and talking to each other, exploring their different concepts of routine, schedule, and the relationship to time and clocks. Its quite possible that they could come to some kind of understanding that didnt involve compromise. Perhaps the words were getting in the mothers way, and maybe if she had observed she would have seen the day as more of a rhythm or a dance than she thought.

This quote from Ruth Anne Hammonds new book, Respecting Babies: A New Look at Magda Gerbers RIE Approach, gives us a way to look at a daily routine that doesnt mention time. Hammond sees daily routines as a structure rather than a schedule and explains, Routine provides a framework so that each day need not be a new invention, but is an opportunity to fine tune ones orientation to the world. It takes on the spirit of beloved ritual which nurtures relationships as much as bodies (2009, p. 43). I wonder if the mother in the opening scene had talked to Ruth Anne, would she have gotten a different perspective? Is it possible for a center to conceive the daily routine as beloved ritual even though theres still a schedule posted on the wall? It might be. Can the director convey the message? Of course, if the teachers are always looking at their watches and then at the schedule, the message is a different one. The word routine comes from the same root as route, meaning a traveled way. So far I have been using the word to mean what happens every day. But the word can also mean the different activities that happen during the day. Lets look at one particular routine nap or rest time. This is one routine that has a variety of cultural perspectives, but for many of the European-American culture the idea of the independence of the individual is intertwined with sleeping. In a workshop at one of the World Forums where many of the participants came from outside the United States, the discussion was about sleeping practices. I was curious to know how naps look when independence isnt a strong cultural mandate and co-sleeping is common practice. I said to the group, In the United States there are strong pressures to get children to sleep alone from infancy on. Regulations require that children nap alone in child care programs in the United States. Then I asked the group what

The word Pull Quote ? routine comes from the same root as route, meaning a traveled way.

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they did in child care programs when children werent used to sleeping alone at home. There was silence in the group. Someone murmured the word licensing. Another mentioned sanitation. Finally, a man from Japan explained that in his program the children all slept on futons on the floor. And then he kind of grinned and admitted that if they pulled the futons together the teachers didnt pull them back apart. Its sometimes hard to talk about cultural differences in some routine caregiving activities because of the standards, rules, regulations, best practices, and health concerns that those trained in ECE know about (and are judged on). Eating is another routine where accepted practice emphasizes independence and self-help skills over neatness, manners, and not wasting food. When in a workshop I show a picture of a baby in a high chair feeding himself with his hands (and making a big mess) sometimes people in the group will make a disgusted face or laugh nervously. But when I ask them to make a list of what this mother would say about why this is a good way to feed her baby, they can offer up to 20 advantages to this approach. Then when I show a mother spoon-feeding her four year old, they gasp and are silent. I ask the same question, What would this mother say about why this is a good way to feed her child? The response is quite a contrast to their response to self-feeding. Some people suggest that the child is severely disabled and cannot feed herself. I assure them she has no disabilities. Others will hesitantly throw out some guesses like, Maybe the relationship is important. Sometimes participants cant hold back a critical tone when they say, Well, its neater! Ive discovered that even the people who were spoon-fed themselves (one person admitted up to second grade) know that it goes against best practices, so they hesitate to take the mothers point of view and explain the cultural difference. Only once in a while will someone speak up and give a number of reasons that this is a good practice in some cultures.

I always appreciate when early childhood staff and administrators can suspend judgment long enough to try to understand a perspective that may not be theirs.

I always appreciate when early childhood staff and administrators can suspend judgment long enough to try to understand a perspective that may not be theirs. Thats an important first step to getting in tune with families. Thats not to say that one must throw out judgments forever. Some practices are indeed harmful. However, it may be difficult to determine whats truly harmful to a particular child in a particular family from a culture that may be different from ones own. Of course, some practices are illegal and we all have the responsibility to follow the law. Still, theres usually some wiggle room above the bottom line. Through further conversation it may be possible for a program to increase its cultural responsiveness so that the routines of the center match better with the ones at home.

References
Hall, E. T. (1984). The dance of life: The other dimension of time. New York: Anchor Books. Hammond, R. A. (2009). Respecting babies: A new look at Magda Gerbers RIE Approach. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.