Did you know that 90% of a child’s brain connections are made by the time they are five? That means that their development and learning during their early years has a significant influence on their future lives. And that’s why people who work with young children need to be of the highest quality.
How many times as early years practitioners have we not heard (I believe I can speak for majority, if not all of us!) “You are so lucky working with children. You play all day” with the quiet understatement of them doing proper and serious jobs that require skills, experience and education, while basically anyone could do our job as we only play… and therefore much skill is not required! This outlook and stereotyping of early years practitioners is held by many people worldwide, and even by surprisingly younger people too.
Recently, while on holiday in Sweden, I was chatting away with my lovely 10 year-old niece where, to my surprise and astonishment, the discussion developed like this:
“Auntie Carola, how old are the children at your school?” she asked
“They’re 2 to 6 years old”
“Ah, so you just play… you don’t really teach them things”
“Oh yes, we do”
“No, but I mean like teaching them ‘knowledge.’ You just have fun and play like ‘bang, bang’ (pointing a pretend gun at me)”
My young niece’s viewpoint is what finally encouraged me to write this article to clarify what it means to be early years professionals and not just a “bunch of nice ladies” who love children and know how to play! It’s time early years professionals move beyond bemoaning the fact that we are misunderstood and undervalued, to ask ourselves why and, most importantly, to take considered actions to redress the problems. Actions that help us be clear about professional practice with powerful statements to others about our profession.
Firstly, teaching young children requires more than a love for children. It also requires a high level of commitment and a high level of knowledge and skill. Next time you see a “bunch of nice ladies” playing with a group of young children remember that alongside having fun with the children they simultaneously watch and observe their cognitive development considering the form of play in use – is it parallel, pretense, functional, symbolic, constructive, dramatic, metaplay, or games with rules? What language and social skills do they use and which have they developed? Do they use logical thinking? And what about their motor skills and life skills, and the list continue. From these observations we plan the best support and guidance for each individual child - often after school hours and weekends. This of course requires skill, expertise and dedication, which lead me to my second point.
We all want the best for our children. That’s why we all can agree upon that we need the best people to help and guide them in their formative years. Therefore all early years practitioners need to have some form of training and the level of training determines what position you may undertake in nursery settings. Some training allows you to work as an assistant teacher, a nursery nurse, a pre-school teacher, a specialized pedagogue, etc. However, there is still a lack of knowledge of what qualifications are needed by people to teach young children. For example, as a practicing early year’s practitioner I many times receive job applications from individuals wanting to work in nursery settings, however, without having any particular training behind them… yet again we clearly come across people with the underlying viewpoint of “a job anyone can do” or perhaps an in-between job that everyone can do!
To set the record straight, the recommended training, which is becoming the norm for an early years educator worldwide, is today a university BA degree in Early Childhood. This is to encourage and support high quality early years provision, as it can have a significant impact on children’s development, performance at school and their future life chances. If children are to benefit from a high quality early years foundation stage, the early years workforce must be professional, well qualified and dedicated. Appropriate qualifications are a must in order to maintain standards and to improve outcomes for children. And, an early years professional’s training often doesn’t end there. Many of us continue by specializing in certain fields such as Montessori, Steiner, Reggio Emilia among a few. We also continue with Master degrees and PhD’s all due to our passion, commitment and dedication towards understanding and supporting children’s development in the best way possible. The skills and experience of early years professionals, will then enable us to lead and inspire colleagues and help give children the start in life they deserve. Statements helping us to be clear about professional practice is therefore yet again needed as it also is a statement to those considering entering early childhood about what constitutes the roles and responsibilities of early childhood professionals, as well as about our profession.
Developing and sharing good practice is a key part of being early years professionals. For instance, governments aim to raise standards by having different bodies such as Social Services, Ministry Education and so forth, inspect nurseries that need to meet a certain criteria. Individual nurseries that may be progressive and specialized in one way or another, such as for example a Montessori setting, may also seek to be part of separate Montessori accreditation schemes from abroad, as they are not always available in all countries, to prove their commitment of delivering a philosophy and approach they have promised to the parents of their school. Parents can thereby rest assured that their child’s school meets the standards and criteria set by the inspecting bodies, and that the school maintains the highest standards in their early years provision. This is the only way most parents will know for sure that their children’s school meets the requirements required.
So, next time you come across a “bunch of nice ladies” consider that they most likely are a bunch of highly qualified, passionate and dedicated ladies who are totally committed towards children. And, when people speak of professionals and how they are expected to keep their skills sharp, to perform their services with unselfish dedication, if necessary working beyond normal working hours, and giving up personal comforts in the interests of society, I believe that on this criteria, the “bunch of nice ladies” ought to be doing very well in the professional arena!
Carola is the founder and principal of Little Gems Montessori Nursery – Nicosia & Larnaca. If you'd like to come and meet out "nice ladies", give us a call on 999 50070 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org