I was really pleased to be involved in the Insight program which aired on Tuesday night, mainly because it is rare to have a whole TV program dedicated to early childhood education and care, but also because the discussion comes at a time that really matters for children, families and early childhood services.
SBS and Jenny Brockie did well to canvass the diversity of views, differing parenting arrangements and the complexity of the sector.
However, the focus of the program was very much on the needs of parents. There was so much more I would have liked to say about children – particularly children’s rights and their developmental needs, why quality matters and the important role of educators.
I would have particularly liked to have responded to the parent who made the comment – “I think our youngest child, all he really needs at the moment is care”.
I don’t want to seem argumentative or defensive – but it could have provided the opportunity to engage the general public in a conversation about why care and early learning are inextricably linked and the quality of his child’s learning is really important – if only we had not run out of time.
Here is what I would have said:
Babies and toddlers are amazing learners. They are learning through their interactions with adults, other children and their environment including the objects all around them that they want to touch, feel and taste.
In fact, some of the most important learning occurs in these critical early years as the brain is developing the functional capacity for speech, coordination, emotions and the many different skills that allow us to make sense of our world.
Early learning is not always easy to see but it is really important. Parents interact with babies and toddlers in a way that teaches trust, attachment and two way communication through eye contact, smiling, mimicking and taking turns – it’s a bit like the serve and return of a tennis match.
When very young children (under the age of 3 years) come to child care services it is important that the richness of the engagement the child would have with their parent or caregivers at home is replicated in the relationship they have with the adults in the centre or family day care setting.
Early childhood educators need to know how to foster that attachment, trust and communication. They need to recognise signs of stress or confusion, give comfort and security as well as providing a diversity play activities suitable for that child’s individual development. Remember, they are working with multiple children and children who are in a new environment with (typically) many more interactions and activities happening around them than they would be used to in a home environment.
Early childhood educators need to be competent to set up rich learning opportunities and to observe/track individual children’s development to expand and scaffold their learning based on children’s interactions and their interests and needs. They need to do this all the time, to ensure no child misses out. Doing this well is not intuitively easy, nor is it a skill that many people are ‘born with’. These are professional skills that must be learned.
Babies and toddlers need quality early learning just as much as older children. This doesn’t have to be provided in a centre or service, parents can provide this at home very effectively, but if your child is attending a centre or service they deserve a high quality program.
As a parent, you have the right to know that your child is getting regular attention, their needs are being recognised and understood, the educators are skilled and actively engaged in your child’s experiences. That is why and documentation for children’s learning is deliberately focused on each individual child to ensure every child benefits.
Care is important but early learning is so much more than that.
Pam Linke’s Everyday Learning about Babies as Amazing Learners is also a great resource to help to inform parents about how children learn. It is available here on ECA’s shop.