Saturday, January 19, 2013

When Zero is Not Nothing

How does your museum, preschool, library, or childcare refer to the very youngest children you serve? To those less than 12 months?

Do you say, or hear others say, “Our target audience is zero to 10 year olds.” “What kind of activities should we offer for zero-to-threes? What’s our attendance of zero to one’s?”

To many, referring to this very young age group as zero seems like simply reading the numeral 0 on a scale for temperatures, distances, or weights. To me and to others, zero is a harsh-sounding dismissal of very young children as nothings.

There are no zeroes born to parents crazy with love for the tiniest beings; parents willing to get up in the middle of the night multiple times, who get down on the floor and make silly faces, and who talk nonsense in high pitched voices to engage the attention and delight their very dear and tiny babies. A baby is not a tabula rasa or an empty bucket to fill. From the very start, a newly arrived infant is active in taking in and making sense of surrounding stimuli and building social relationships.

Words matter. Disability awareness is one area in which thinking about words and meaning recognizes assets and capabilities and removes barriers to convey respect and change lives.

An infant carried in a Snugli, a newborn perched in a parent’s arms, a baby reclining in a stroller, or peepers and creepers crossing the squishy pad in the tot spot are welcomed visitors. Museums plan for them thoughtfully, calibrate experiences to support their growth and development, and provide comforts and amenities for them and for their parents and caregivers.  

If a museum, preschool, library, childcare program, or advocacy organization is investing time, energy, affection, and resources to enrich and improve the lives of very young children, perhaps it should refer to them as newborns, infants, babies, peepers and creepers and skip the zeroes.

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