After overhearing the statement that begins this blog one too many times, 4C Infant and Toddler Specialist Christine Fields wanted to share just how important she believes the work of early childhood educators can be…
“We’re not a school. We’re a daycare.”
How do you feel when you hear that statement? Many teachers and parents view early care and education programs as “babysitting facilities,” but we know better! Teachers in early care and education have a unique opportunity to support a child during the earliest and most critical years of their development.
A child’s brain is 90 percent developed by age 5, and an infant’s brain is constantly creating connections which allow the brain to more efficiently process information. A positive environment helps facilitate those connections, and it is the responsibility of parents and caregivers to provide their children with that environment. A stressful environment, like one where children are not given the support they need, can affect their brain development. Stress can actually alter the shape of the brain. If a child is consistently under stress, their cognitive, emotional, social, language and communication abilities may be affected.
What is stress for a young child? It varies because children are individuals, just like adults. What causes you stress? Is it loud noises? Bright colors? Crowds? Loud music? Strange smells? Early care and education programs are full of these things! A toddler classroom may have as many as 14 children in one room with two caregivers. There are shelves full of noisy, battery-operated materials, and music may be playing at all times. There are pictures hanging on all of the walls – each painted a different, bright color – and posters suspended from the ceiling. Feeling overwhelmed? So is the toddler, who doesn’t yet have the ability to self-regulate, ask for help or explain how he is feeling.
Teachers in early care and education programs aren’t babysitters. They are responsible for assisting the child’s brain to grow and develop, and creating a supportive and less stressful environment doesn’t have to cost money. Play music when children want to dance and when they are done, turn it off. Instead of battery-operated toys, create home-made toys out of recycled materials: make blocks out of orange juice cartons, jewelry boxes, pizza boxes or anything else you can get your hands on; create see through bottles by putting hair gel in a used Gatorade bottle and adding interesting materials such as sequins to see how they float in the gel. Instead of shouting across the room to speak a child, go to them, get down on their level and speak calmly. If there are 14 toddlers in a room, have one caregiver take his primary care group outside and have the other caregiver keep her seven children inside. Having seven children instead of 14 reduces the noise level, the “fights” over materials and allows the caregiver to give attention to children in a small group.
If someone believes you’re “just” a babysitter, remember how important your work is. Value your profession and the children in your care!