23 Nov 2013

Embracing the Early Years

1 Comment Being Intentional, Canadian ECE, Early Childhood Education, Personal Learning Network

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I’ve been at a conference these past few days. As my sister put it I’ve been “blowing up [her] Twitter feed”. As I’m still processing everything, I’m sure I’ll have more to say in a few days, but I wanted to put out a quick post while I’m still on my conference high.

First of all, I met a lot of amazing people this week. Men and women who are working in the field of Early Childhood Education in a lot of capacities, including home child care, centre based child care, parent and family support, post-secondary education and many more. They came in from all across Ontario to learn together, which is an incredible thing, and always an enriching experience to get to learn and share with each other about our many varied experiences.

All of the Keynote speakers were amazing. Today, Lisa Murphy aka the Ooey Gooey Lady re-energized us on our last day by making us laugh and reminding us all of how much we have in common. One great take-away from that was that we should never ever underestimate the value of what we do or compromise our practice because of what others are doing or wanting us to do. Dr. Paul McGhee reminded us that humour is mental play, and taught us all the art of a good belly laugh. Dr. Stuart Shanker helped us to understand stress in ourselves and in the children that we care for, because we need to understand stress in order to self-regulate.  Dr. Paul Kershaw reminded us of the pressures undergoing Generation Squeeze and encouraged us to rally together for change. Nora Spinks, along a similar line, tried to show us the light when it came to finding work-life balance. Dr. Jean Clinton reminded us of the importance of relationships when it comes to brain development.

The workshops that I went to were equally amazing, which is also what I heard from others with regards to their workshops. What struck me about all of these workshops and keynotes, was this almost hidden thread running through all of them. That thread was about caring for the caregiver. On the surface this may have been a conference called “Embracing the Early Years“, it may have been a conference about working with very young children in their families, but what it came back to time and time again, was how important it was to be self-aware, to be self-reflective, to take care of ourselves so that we are equipped to take care of children and families. That’s my big “take home”, that’s what will really stay with me. I think that’s something every Early Childhood Educator should remember. We are our “best practice”, all of the education and the training and the equipment in the world won’t do us any good if we don’t take care of ourselves so that we can use it.

My deepest thanks go out to all of the committee members and the partners that put on this great conference. I hope there will be more in the future.

Conference Partners (in case you want to check them out).

Affiliated Services for Children and Youth

The Halton Resource Connection

Home Child Care Association of Ontario

Hamilton Best Start

Halton Our Kids Network

Guelph Wellington Quality Child Care Initiative

Early Childhood Professional Resource Centre

Conestoga College

Mohawk College

Sheridan College

18 Jun 2013

Wage Enhancement for ECE

No Comments Advocacy, Early Childhood Education

One of the most prevalent struggles in the early childhood education and care field has to do with wages. Many ECEs aren’t paid enough forcing some out of the field and others to take second jobs. Still others simply struggle or rely on their partner’s wages to make ends meet. This has been an ongoing issue for decades now and yet still nothing has been done to rectify this. In fact in Ontario quite the opposite has happened: the most recent changes to provincial child care funding has eliminated the previously dedicated (and very limited) wage enhancement grant which child care providers were only able to use for staff wages. Although these centres will continue to receive operating grants, the concern is that this money will be redirected to other parts of the program because wages are not the only area of need in child care.

When we discuss the low wages in this field, there are a lot of talks about reforming the system, creating a national child care plan or unionizing all child care centres. These are ambitious goals and although I appreciate the big picture thinking, I often wonder why we don’t put more focus on smaller, more attainable steps.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see an affordable, high quality, national child care system and maybe I will in my lifetime, but it doesn’t seem likely any time soon. So, in the meantime, can’t we look at the smaller picture and make things just a little easier for ECEs and child care operators? Let’s bring back the wage enhancement grant, let’s make it available to everyone and let’s top it up so ECEs can stop picking change out of the couch cushions. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

12 Sep 2012

My Social Media Journey

13 Comments Personal Learning Network, Social Media

I have found myself reflecting a lot lately on my own foray into social media. This is in part because of two conferences that I have coming up in the next few months. The first is Blissdom Canada  a women’s social media conference, which I attended for the first time last year and the second is an Early Childhood Education and Social Media conference where I will be speaking about my experiences with Twitter. Social media, for me, has been an ongoing journey and I have learned a lot along the way. I have a much better idea now of what I want from this site and from Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, etc. than I did when I first began. However, I don’t always feel that I’m moving at a fast enough pace.

Last year, when I left Blissdom Canada I was on Cloud 9; I had heard amazing speakers, met some incredible women and even had the courage to get up on stage and sing Karaoke. I felt confident and motivated to work on my brand, to blog more, to throw myself into CanadianECE. However, in the weeks that followed Blissdom, life happened. I made the very difficult decision to leave my steady, decent paying job and to try something new, something that isn’t as secure, but is on the path to what might be my dream job. Unfortunately this has meant that some of what I’d hoped to accomplish over the last year hasn’t happened. I haven’t had the time or the head space to blog as often as I had planned to, I haven’t built up my CanadianECE brand the way I had hoped. So now with another Blissdom Canada coming up in just over a month, I find myself feeling apprehensive, because I’m not much better off this year than I was last year. How do I face all those women who have accomplished so much, when it feels like I have accomplished so little?

That being said, I have still learned a lot this year, about myself and about what I want from Social Media. Initially, I thought that this site and social media in general was only about the content that I was creating, what I was putting out there to the world. However, what I have learned over the past year, in part due to my involvement with Twitter and #ecetechchat, is that what is most meaningful for me are the interactions and the relationships that Social Media supports. My Personal Learning Network has grown on a global level and as an Early Childhood Educator, this has become the most significant way that I can continue to reflect on and grow my own practice in the field. The connections that I have made and the conversations that I have had, may not feel as tangible as site visit numbers or blog post counts, but they have been significant for me. They have shaped my journey over the last year and supported my transition into my new career path.

I still have a vision for this site, though, and I still feel like I should be doing more, but I guess for today, what I’ve developed is enough, even if I can’t show it off to all those wonderful women in October.

Photo from apdk on Flickr

09 Jul 2012

What does it mean to have a sense of self?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 2.3 Sense of Self
  • sucking fingers, observing own hands
  • showing preference for being held by familiar people
  • beginning to distinguish known people from strangers
  • showing pleasure in mastery
  • playing confidently in the presence of caregiver and frequently checking in with her (social referencing)
  • increasing awareness of opportunities to make things happen yet limited understanding of consequences of own actions
Hold the infant securely when she is meeting a new person. Look at the person and reach out to them.
This helps the infant remain secure with new people and build confidence as she expresses her preference for certain people.

 

Infants are people.

Take a moment and think about that. I know it seems obvious, but I think as adults and as caregivers we can forget that these tiny little humans who depend on us so completely are also individuals. They are unique individuals who are developing their own identities and personalities as well as their “likes” and “dislikes”. Infants are people, just like you and I are people. Now, being conscious of that, how does this affect the way that we engage with infants? How can we not only appreciate them as individuals, but support them in the early stages as they begin to develop a sense of self?

My first tip- allow babies some time to be naked. No joke. Infants are learning about their bodies; they are discovering their hands, their feet and all the different parts of their bodies, but to be able to do that they need access. How will they ever learn they have toes if their feet are always covered with socks or slippers? Additionally, bodies that are free from clothing have freedom of movement. There’s a reason babies love to be naked, so why not turn the heat up a notch and allow your infant some time to explore their bodies freely?

Another suggestion is to provide lots of opportunities for uninterrupted, child-initiated play. By this I mean allowing infants the freedom to select a material to explore and the freedom to explore that material however they choose for as long as possible. Infants learn about themselves and the world around them through exploration. When we allow them to make choices and take initiative in their play, we support their sense of self.

Thinking about your infants interactions with others, strangers in particular, you can support your infant by paying close attention to their cues. “Auntie” might want to hold your infant, but is your infant alright with being held by a stranger? Maybe they need a few minutes to get to know each other before your infant will want to experience close contact. Allow your infant to dictate the pace, which will help them to make choices, to feel secure and will allow this introduction of a stranger to be a positive, and not distressful experience.

An infant who is still developing their sense of self, continues to rely on their caregiver to provide a safe and secure environment. They trust us to provide freedrom to explore, appropriate materials and a safe space. Infants learn how to be secure in themselves by being secure in their caregivers.

Photo from: MGD Photography

22 May 2012

From the mouths of babes

No Comments Cognitive, ELECT, Preschool/Kindergarten
Preschool Kindergarten (2.5 to 6 years)
Cognitive
4.7 Reflecting and Reaching Conclusions
  • describing similarities and cause and effect in recurring events
  • identifying patterns of events
  • describing connections between different objects, events and experiences
  • making generalizations about different objects, events and experiences
Ask a child: “How do you know what comes next?”
Or: “How did you figure that out?”

This will invite the child to reveal his thinking and tell how he came to his conclusion.

 

A few months ago, I spent a day at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). While I was there, I overheard a young boy of about four say something that has continued to stick with me. He pointed to one of the “stuffed” animals in the exhibit and shouted out “Look, a fossil yak”. The reason that this has stayed with me is because that simple statement seemed to be such a wonderful indication of how he was learning and processing information. It was as though I could see the cogs turning in his head, I could see how he might have come to call this animal a “fossil yak”. This young boy and his family had been going through the ROM in much the same direction we had, and I had seen him in the previous exhibit we’d been in, which was the dinosaur exhibit. So, I could imagine how this young child could have learned that the dinosaurs that he was seeing were not alive, and he learned that these dinosaurs were instead fossil dinosaurs. Then, moving into another room and seeing animals that were not alive, he could have taken the information that he’d already learned, which is that something that isn’t alive is a fossil, and then apply that principle to a new situation. This could certainly lead to his declaration that the animal before him was a “fossil yak”.

All too often, children’s comments are remembered or repeated because they are “cute” and we often joke about what kids say. I wonder, though, how often we really think about some of the comments that children make about the world around them? I wonder if we think about what these comments can tell us about children, about their learning and development, about their observations of the world and how they process information. Children learn and grow so rapidly, especially in their early years; their brains are constantly changing as they take in and process new information and have new experiences. I think that we don’t spend enough time appreciating that process. Children are not empty vessels needing to be filled with knowledge so that they become more intelligent, more mature. They aren’t just cute. They are explorers and scientists and they spend a lot more time contemplating the world around them and trying to understand it than we do. So, next time a child says something “cute”, take a moment to really think about what they’re saying. It might be more revealing than you originally thought.

29 Nov 2011

Musings of an Early Childhood Educator

No Comments Canadian ECE, Early Childhood Education

We might not always feel that we’re valued and appreciated on a large scale, but we make a difference to each child…

  I have to admit that sometimes I feel a little disenchanted with the field of early childhood education. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very passionate about the early childhood years, child development and the importance of quality caregiving. However there are days when it just feels like there’s something about this field that’s too hard. As early childhood practitioners, we struggle for validation, we struggle for respect and we struggle to maintain fair wages without raising the cost of care. There’s a great desire to advocate for the field, caregivers want to be heard, but at the same time, we’re tired, we have families to take care of and it’s hard to find the time to get on our soap boxes and tell the world to listen up and hear the importance of the early childhood field. There are days when I hear someone say “babysitting” and I have to grit my teeth. There are times when someone comments on how lucky I am to get to “hold babies and play all day” and although I do feel lucky to do the work that I do, I hate for people to devalue what I do every day like that, because they say it as though it isn’t work, as though it isn’t significant, as though it isn’t important. I find it so frustrating sometimes.

However the thing about feeling this way is that there are days when I think I want to quit, to leave it all behind, but there are also other days, days when instead of quitting, I want to push back, I want to make a change. That’s one of the reasons I became involved in professional development. The first workshop that I presented came out of my own request. I was an infant teacher and was frustrated by the lack of professional development offered for those working with infants and toddlers. There was one workshop, which had been offered two or three times and that was all. So I spoke up, I approached a few people who were involved with a local organization that put on professional development for child care workers and made my request, loudly and more than once. Eventually my name must have gotten put on a list somewhere because a while later they called me and invited me to do a series of workshops for infant care workers. So I did, and being able to share what I had learned in my own research and my own practice and to hear about what others were doing was a great experience for me, and I was hooked.

It’s difficult sometimes, coordinating so many people, and my involvement is a lot of work. However at the same time, I really believe that it’s worth it.

 My involvement in a local advocacy organization, the Association for Early Childhood Educators of Ontario, came about in much the same way. I was always reading up on the changes in the field and talking to those I knew, both in and out of the field about the importance of early education and what was happening in the field. I realized that I wanted to make more of a contribution to support my local Early Childhood Educators and so I joined the board of my local branch. It’s difficult sometimes, coordinating so many people, and my involvement is a lot of work. However at the same time, I really believe that it’s worth it. Even if I don’t get a lot of feedback, even if there’s only a few people who respond to our newsletters and our events, that’s still enough. It’s not just about the many, it’s about the few, and I have to keep believing that every voice, that every contribution is important.

The field of early childhood is important, early childhood practitioners are important. The work that we do with children is really important. We might not always feel that we’re valued and appreciated on a large scale, but we make a difference to each child and to each family and that’s what really counts. Yes, I have days when I feel disenchanted about what I do, but then I think of the children and the families and I remember that what I do matters.

Photo from Flickr by David Woo (Wootang01)