DR FAY HADLEY and DR LIZ ROUSE look at what it looks like to be a child citizen in a pandemic and the invaluable role of educators for children and their families, in this time of rapid change. Fay and Liz also suggest ways services can create an extra layer of security for children whilst in your care, through activities and creating spaces for them to be alone but feel safe and supported.
The world for all of us has changed and we are constantly feeling that we have little control over what we are dealing with on a day-to-day basis with the constant ever-changing challenges we are currently facing. As adults our own sense of control is being eroded. Adults are faced with so many challenges, among them working from home or not having any work, home schooling young children, not being able to purchase essential supplies, the fear of losing the roof over our heads, and fear for loved ones who may be far away.
Fundamental principles of early childhood development and education draw on John Dewey’s notion of children as democratic citizens, who have rights and should be given opportunities to have a say about the world in which they live (Rinaldi, 2013, Reimaging Childhood). However the current situation caused by the pandemic has taken from many children their sense of control over their lives and over the world in which they live. Each day, young children are being faced with news items reporting on rapidly increasing global infections, nearly 2 million cases world-wide and ever-increasing death tolls. Children may be worried about Uncle John who lives in New York when they see Central Park turned into a field hospital, or Nonna in Lombardi when the news brings images of coffins lined up in churches. Where children’s parents are health workers or work in supermarkets, they may be anxious that their parents will contract this illness. Social distancing means that children are not able to go to the park, spend time with friends, visit Yiayia, or to go on the planned holiday to a theme park.
Children as democratic citizens need to be able to regain some control over their lives and feel they can have a say in contributing to their world. As educators it is important to work with families to help them support their children at home, and to recognise how children may be feeling. We can support parents to work collaboratively with their children so they can understand why their world has been turned on its head. Families may need educator strategies for negotiating ways to work with their children so that the youngest family members feel that they do have some control in their lives. Young children do have opinions about what they can be doing to self isolate and to social distance. They also are able to make suggestions about how to do this and still stay connected with friends and family.
As educators we can provide a safe space for children to talk about their feelings, worries and concerns. Creating opportunities where children can engage in role play, art and music, allowing them to use their bodies to share and express their feelings are important. Creating spaces for young children to be alone and feel safe supports a sense of security in times of uncertainty. This can include using materials already to hand such as cushions or throw rugs, (choosing items that can easily be washed), netting or sheer curtains, making little nooks where children can find a quiet space to just be.
Your role in children’s and families’ lives is invaluable. Supporting the sense of wellbeing and security for these young children at this time is so important to educators as it is fundamental to who we are. Many families, despite the stress they are undergoing, have a new-found understanding of what you do and what you bring to their children’s lives. They are listening.
Dr Fay Hadley is a Senior Lecturer who specialises in partnerships with families and leadership in early childhood education. She is the Director for Initial Teacher Education in the Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University. Prior to academia her roles included an early childhood teacher, director, and project manager for larger early childhood organisations. Fay’s main research area is partnerships with diverse families in educational settings. She has been researching in this area for the past fifteen years and in 2008 she was the recipient of the Early Childhood Australia Doctoral Thesis award for her doctoral thesis. The award was established by Early Childhood Australia in 1995 to encourage Australian early childhood research and to recognise the excellence of early childhood research undertaken by doctoral students in Australia. Fay’s thesis examined the role of the early childhood services (from the families’ perspectives) and argued that these spaces needed to be reconceptualised including the role of the early childhood leader. Fay has published widely in journals, book chapters and textbooks. Fay is currently the chair of Early Childhood Australia Publications Committee. She is on the editorial board for Australasian Journal of Early Childhood and was previously the Deputy Editor of the journal.
Dr Elizabeth Rouse is a senior lecturer in early childhood at Deakin University, Australia, working with pre-service teachers gaining initial teacher education qualifications. Her main areas of teaching focus on developing professional practice of teachers, especially those working in early years classrooms. Elizabeth has over thirty years’ experience as a teacher, having spent many years working in early childhood settings, as a teacher in the early years of school as well as working with children and families who have additional learning needs. For the past ten years she has been working to build the next generation of early years teachers at both Deakin and prior starting there, a number of universities and polytechnics in Victoria, Australia. Elizabeth’s research focus has been centred on partnerships between families, children and educators, bringing a view of partnerships that encompasses reciprocal relationships leading to shared decision making based on mutual trust and respect, and in 2015 graduated with a Doctor of Education where her dissertation explored the relationships between families and educators in an early childhood education and care setting through a lens of family centred practice. Within the context of her research, a strong belief in rights based pedagogies where both parents and children are valued decision makers has informed her work with preservice teachers. Elizabeth has published a number of professional texts as well as scholarly papers focusing on parent educator partnerships, professional practice of early years teachers and leading pedagogical change in early years settings.