People who teach infants, toddlers, and preschoolers need our support. But what will that look like?
Here’s the problem:
Many, many people who spend their days caring for our youngest children are in dire straights right now. There are not enough teachers and the ones that are left feel like they’re putting out fires! They’re stretched to their limits because of COVID regulations making their jobs even harder, and because of sickness itself. This is all made so much worse by low pay in the field. Because of these things, teachers are leaving in droves making it even worse for those who choose to stick it out.
I’ve been involved with teachers, parents, and young children for 43+ years and I know that the more problems the teachers experience, the less likely they are to provide higher-quality care. That kind of care requires that love, attention, guidance, and language be presented in a calm and positive manner.
And that’s not easy. Especially when there are so many other demands to be met. Cleaning, planning, extra COVID duties, etc. It's not only the children that need to be kept happy by early childhood professionals but also our administrators and the parents of the children we serve!
Luckily, there’s a lot of wonderful research out there that tells us how to nurture and care for our youngest citizens because it’s really, really important.
In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient. In light of these findings, focussing on early childhood only makes sense. -Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University-
This research won’t do us any good if we don’t have enough early childhood professionals to support young children in their learning during this critical time period. It won’t do us any good if the people who care for our youngest are at their breaking points.
Child care workers are 95.6 percent female and are disproportionately workers of color. Child care workers receive very low pay. The median hourly wage for child care workers is $10.31, 39.3 percent below the $17.00 median hourly wage of workers in other occupations. (Nov 5, 2015) That figure in itself can cause a fair amount of stress. -National Policy Institute-
Many parents are worried about their children’s language and social development during COVID for good reason. Less social interaction means less time to practice and grow. The children affected by COVID will catch up in those areas and they’ll do it together given the right opportunities and experiences, though.
It may be harder, however, to get back the emotional health lost through stress and lack of appreciation felt for the people who care for our youngest.
But what can we do to support those who support our youngest during these critical times?
No teacher or parent should feel like they’re putting out fires but they do. Here's an idea that may help:
Behavior support. there are lots of ways to help teachers with their #1 concern but many are not used regularly enough. We get support when things go wrong for sure. But what about support in helping things go right? Well, it varies from center to center, situation to situation.
Administrators can provide supportive observations, planning time, behavior focus groups, one-on-one counseling, and productive staff meetings.
Parents can support teachers as many do, by listening and letting them know when they're pleased with the care their children receive. Also by working with teachers through communication rather than competition.
Here's something that really helped me, as a teacher, over the years. It's a little booklet called Discipline by Jeanette G Stone and here's how it starts out:
"This is a book about teaching children to respect themselves and others and to show that respect. It is a book about having control of children in a variety of childcare settings or in their homes and about teaching children to take over this control for themselves. It is not a book about punishment of children although it does talk about control."-Jeanette Galambos Stone-
If we don't feel like we have mutual respect and a balance of control with the children, no one feels safe.
You might have to search for a used copy because it seems to be out of print but believe me, the effort is worth it.
One more thing. Here's a behavior chart based on the premise that all behavior is learning, and misbehavior is a mistaken way of getting there. It's based on the work of Rudolph Driekurs. It's helped me feel good about teaching over the years and I hope it helps you in some small way.
Parents, teachers, and kids all need emotional coaching right now. If we do it right, the positive results will be seen in10-20 years. If we don't ......I don't want to think about that right now. All I know for sure is this!
The hand that rocks the cradle, will rock the world!-Nanci J Bradley
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Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.