Archive for Child Care

06 Aug 2013

Every Day Should be a Camp Day

No Comments Child Care, Early Childhood Education

This July I have had the opportunity to work mornings at a summer camp for Toddlers and Preschoolers. I have been off of the “front lines” of the field for the past year or so and so I have really enjoyed this opportunity to get my hands dirty, to play and to develop meaningful relationships with the children. We have had a number of twos and almost-twos who have been attending camp in order to get them ready for nursery school in the fall, and it’s been amazing to see how much they’ve learned and grown in just one month. Some of our quietest children in our first week are becoming our loudest in the last week and we’re all rejoicing in that. They’ve also learned a lot about regulating their bodies and their emotions and of course about negotiating social situations and developing relationships with their peers. It’s been an exciting summer.

We’ve enjoyed a lot of messy play with painting, playdough, goop and even some paper maché. We have dug in the dirt and ran through the sprinklers. We have ignored or changed the schedule to accommodate more time to run around in the gym or even just more time in our free play explorations. As my co-worked said when we started “we can do anything we want – it’s camp!” That really has me thinking, because I don’t think what we’ve been doing at camp is any different than most early childhood programs. There seems to be this idea that we can throw away the curriculum and just play because it’s camp, however isn’t play the curriculum of early childhood? Shouldn’t the mess and the fun be what early childhood programs are all about? We seem to get stuck on this idea that learning is something that has to be planned for, that has to be accommodated in our schedules, but for young children (and those of us who are young at heart) learning happens ALL THE TIME. We don’t need to schedule learning, we just need to open our eyes and our ears and we will see learning happening all around us. Children are intrinsically motivated to learn and when we give them opportunities to explore in the ways that they want to explore with the things that they want to explore, learning will occur. As Early Childhood Educators, our job is to notice and support this learning, and to facilitate it through the environment, materials and opportunities we provide.

In our early childhood environments, everyday should be like camp. We should be flexible in our schedules, making allowances for extra time to free play or to run off excess energy. Messy play should be a daily occurrence. Our focus should be on learning through play, not academic curriculum. If we’re worried about children learning letters or numbers and shapes, we need to remember that these things are part of our everyday life and children will show interest in them when they need them, like wanting to know how tall their tower is or wanting to write a word on their drawing. As we all start to get our heads around a new school year, I hope that this year our focus will be on play, because that’s where learning happens.

Photo from phlubdr on Flickr.

17 Jan 2013

Isn’t being an ECE enough?

1 Comment Child Care, Early Childhood Education

I meet a lot of early childhood education students, both at the college and university level and lately it seems like every student that I meet has an end goal of being a “teacher”. College students want to go on to university, university students want to go to teacher’s college. All the ECE students seem to want to move beyond being “just ECEs”. I understand that in Ontario, the field of early childhood education is changing. With Full Day Kindergarten rolling out and ECEs moving into the school boards, there’s bound to be a shift. However, this is not the end of child care, this is not the end of early childhood education and care as we currently know it, at least not completely. However, I’m starting to wonder if being an early childhood educator has stopped being the goal. I wonder if it’s become a stepping stone for many, an entry level stage they need to move through in order to get where they really want to go.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about teachers, I think that’s a great career to pursue, and I am actually in favor of the full day kindergarten program. However, I’m worried about what happens when we stop holding on to our early childhood education roots, when we move past ECE, when we let it go. I think that the specialized education that an early childhood educators receives that relates to child development, to play and to learning is essential. I think this education can be of great benefit to kindergarten teachers and to primary school teachers. I just fear that it will be lost if it’s just a hurdle to get past to get to the real goal, to get to teacher’s college.

For me, I’ve had a number of different positions in the field of early childhood education and care, and only a couple have been in traditional child care centres. However, I have always tried to hold on to my ECE-ness. I identify as an early childhood educator, even when I’ve worked with adults more than with children. No matter what degrees I earn, no matter what letters I can put beside my name, I will always be an early childhood educator. That’s my career, that’s what I wanted to be, that’s what I still want to be. I hope that this is just a transition period, that we’re all just figuring out what all these changes mean to our field. I know there are many out there who like me, are proud to be early childhood educators. I hope that the next generation will feel the same.

11 Jan 2013

Documenting History

No Comments Child Care, Documentation, Early Childhood Education

I visited a child care centre where I used to work this afternoon and it was an interesting experience. Certainly a lot has changed in the years since I’ve worked there, but what was interesting to see were the things that hadn’t changed. Documentation panels that I’d assembled at the end of long term projects were still on the walls and a classroom display that had come out of a project on farm animals was still up on the cupboards. The furniture was different, the toys and learning materials were changed, but there were still these base elements, part of this centre’s history that remained. These project boards and displays were once the first things put up on bare walls, the first few pages of a new centre’s history. Now they are joined by more recent documentation and displays of current projects. The walls are full of history, and the centre seems lived in, rather than institutional as it had before.

I remember when I started at that centre, it was just opening in a brand new building. We shared a building with another institution, and so although the centre was beautiful, the starkness of the bare walls and the general design of the building seemed more like a hospital than a home. We wanted to fill the walls with documentation and other displays, as we were Reggio inspired and wanted to create a similar look and feel, however we were reminded that creating a history takes time. I was certainly reminded of that today. I think that we are often eager to move forward to get to the next stage in our practice, in our journey; we want the end result and lose sight of the process. Being in that centre today reminded me of the importance of the journey, that each step is necessary and important. History doesn’t happen overnight.

Photo by JaniceCullivan on Flickr

10 Jan 2013

Simple Planning

No Comments Child Care, Early Childhood Education

Less is more. I think that’s one of the hardest things for an Early Childhood Educator to learn. We know that our role is to build relationships, to set up a supportive environment and to provide learning opportunities to promote children’s development. So, we “plan activities”, which is where the challenge lies.

For my students going out into the field to do their practicum they know that one of the expectations is a certain amount of “planned activities”. What is challenging for these students, and for other ECEs as well is that once you’ve planned the activity and you’re implementing it, you have to let go of the plan. As ECEs our role is to facilitate learning, to provide an environment where children are free to make choices in their explorations. We can support their learning, and we can scaffold their learning, but I think that learning happens best when the adults let go of their own agendas and follow the child’s lead. This is hard for ECE students, who want to plan “successful” activities, and who often base the success of their plan on whether the children did as they anticipated. Allowing children to change the plan or to use materials in new ways, is something that can still be difficult for veteran ECEs. We make plans based on the children’s interests, sometimes based on our own interests or experiences, and based on our knowledge of child development. Sometimes a patterning activity turns into pretend play, sometimes an art activity becomes a sensory explorations, and that’s okay.

Therefore, I think that simple can be better. Our plans should require less planning. We can bring together materials and speculate on two or more ways the children might use them, anticipating the different learning that can occur, then when we actually give them the materials, we carefully observe. Maybe some of the children will do as we anticipated and we’ll feel prepared to support them in that, but even if they don’t, we can still use our skills as observers and our relationship as play partners to join them in their explorations, and to support the learning that is still happening.

The more planning that an adult puts in to an activity, the more closed-ended the materials, the less the children can do with it. The more open-ended the materials, the less the adult puts into it (in the planning stage), the more the child puts into the activity, the more opportunities they have to make choices, to experiment, to problem solve and to learn what they need to learn. It’s that simple; but then again, keeping things simple is a hard thing to learn.

Photo by woodleywonderworks on Flickr.

04 Jan 2013

Five Things Every New ECE Should Know

No Comments Child Care, Early Childhood Education

It’s the Friday before the start of a new semester and for many of my students, their final semester before they go out into the field. This has me thinking about what I would like them to know before they graduate, and I’ve come up with these five things.

  1. Your education does not end here; learning is a lifelong journey. Keep reading articles, blogs, journals and books, attend workshops, keep reflecting, keep an open dialogue with former classmates and co-workers and continue to build your Personal Learning Network. Keep building relationships with the children in your care, because they can teach us just as we teach them- learn from the children.
  2. Team work is key. You will have a partner or two, who will have their own beliefs about children, their own educational and experiential background and their own opinions and ideas. It is important that you communicate with each other and work together, sharing your own ideas and keeping an open mind about theirs. It isn’t always easy to work so closely with someone, but if you keep an open mind and engage in ongoing dialogue it will be an enriching experience.
  3. Money isn’t everything. This is a field where money is a hot button issue and all too often I see students planning their future employment based on which centres pay more. Now, I won’t disagree that money is important, but don’t let that rule your career. Sometimes making a little bit less money, but working at a centre where the staff and the centre’s philosophy matches your own, where you enjoy working, is preferable to working somewhere that causes you stress or makes you unhappy.
  4. Find your passion. If you are getting ready to graduate or have recently entered the field and this isn’t something that you love to do, then don’t. You have other options, don’t feel like you are “stuck” in this field forever. It may just mean you need to find another centre or another area of the field to work in, or it may mean a complete career shift. It’s okay to take another path.
  5. And last – Don’t forget to play! It’s easy to get caught up in the paperwork and the tidying and all the other busy work that we get called to do, but never forget that your job is to build relationships and to be a play partner. It’s okay to sit on the floor and play, it’s okay to have fun. It will invigorate you and inspire you, but most importantly it will make you a better Early Childhood Educator.

What advice would you give an ECE who’s just starting out?

Photo by familymwr on Flickr

19 Dec 2012

Practicing Reflection

1 Comment Child Care, Early Childhood Education, Parenting

One of the most important skills that an educator or caregiver should practice is reflection. If it is our goal to support children in their growth and development and to be lifelong learners ourselves then it is essential that we are regularly reflecting on our own experiences and practices. We all do it to some extent, but too often I think we reflect on the challenging or “unsuccessful” experiences more than the rest. However, understanding why a planned experience, group time or interaction went well is just as important as understanding why one didn’t. Over the past year, as I’ve been working with College students pursuing their diploma in Early Childhood Education, I have been trying to encourage them to get into this practice.

Reflection serves many purposes. Firstly it ensures that we remain in the moment and make observations about the children’s play experiences and interactions. If we didn’t take the time to really see what’s happening, then we can’t reflect, and these observations are essential as we plan each day’s experiences. When we plan, we usually have an idea with regards to how we think they might use the materials, however, children are great at thinking outside the box and coming up with new ways to use the materials. Therefore when we take the time to observe and to reflect on what the children actually did, rather than what we assumed they would do, we develop an insight into their skills and their interests, which supports the planning process. I often hear that ECEs and ECE students feel stressed about planning experiences that the children will enjoy, however, when we take the time to observe and reflect, we can often come away with new ideas. Additionally, reflecting helps us to be intentional in our practice. For example, when new materials are being added to the learning environment, do you always take the time to ask yourself why you’re adding that material, thinking about what it will add to the children’s play. Finally, reflection supports our relationships with the children in our care, their parents and with the staff. Since reflection requires that we be observant and intentional in our interactions, our planned experiences and even in how we set up our environment, it supports us to be the kind of educators and caregivers that we want to be, because we are thinking about it and altering our plans and behaviours according to the way that we want to be.

One of the ways that we encourage our students to be reflective is included in their activity planning. They are asked to plan and implement an activity, and then when it’s finished, both they and their supervising ECE are asked to reflect on the planned activity. What did the children do? How did the ECE student respond to the children? What would they do differently? I encourage my students to spend time on this and use it to inform their practice and to plan further activities. I also typically have them do some form of a reflection each week in our field seminar class, asking them to reflect on an experience they had at placement that week.

I don’t limit my reflection to being something I ask my students to do, however, I try and make sure I am reflective in my own practices as well. As difficult as it sometimes is, I always read the feedback my students give me in their evaluations and sometimes do an extra evaluation at midterm, asking students for their feedback on what they find helpful or not helpful. More often than not they request “no more tests”, however there is other feedback which I try to take into account. I always want to keep learning, I don’t ever want to be finished, and so I keep reflecting. I hope that this will inspire you to keep reflecting too.

Photo by radical_vamsi on Flickr

15 Nov 2012

Why isn’t child care a priority?

2 Comments Advocacy, Child Care

Lately I am disheartened as I continue to hear and to read about child care centres that are closing their doors because of funding. Most concerning are the municipal and regional centres that are closing their doors. First Windsor, more recently Peel and now there are other publicly funded centres who are on the proverbial chopping block. All this is addition to the child care closures that are happening in the private sector. The other element of this that I take issue with is that the blame for Ontario child care closures often gets put on Full Day Kindergarten (FDK). I understand that child care centres, both public and private have seen changes since the implementation of FDK, but the issue isn’t the FDK program, the issue is funding. Lack of funding is what’s responsible for closing child care centres, not Ontario’s new kindergarten program. Changes are happening in the early learning and care sector, and I truly believe we should embrace these changes as a good thing.

However, embracing these changes and supporting child care programs to shift and grow to accommodate the different needs in our communities needs to start at the top. What message are we sending to private owners and non-profit agencies who are struggling to adapt to serving a younger child care population when our municipalities and regions aren’t willing to keep their money in child care? How do we expect those centres to push through these struggles with their limited resources when our governments are jumping ship and getting out of the child care business? Why isn’t child care a priority?

We need to speak up. In our communities, in our government; our voices need to be heard and we need to remind them how important the early years are and how important child care is to our community. We couldn’t function without it.

And speaking of a day without child care, I came across this video a while back that a group in California put together, showcasing just how important child care is to the community.

A Day without Child Care

We need to speak up and save quality child care in our communities.

Photo from Bonnerlibrary on Flickr