So much more than care

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Everyday learning about babies as amazing learners

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Sam Page

Samantha Page is the CEO of Early Childhood Australia (ECA), the national peak advocacy organisation for children under eight, their families and professionals in the field of early childhood development and education. ECA was established in 1938 and works with Government, early childhood professionals, parents, other carers of young children, and various lobby groups to advocate to ensure quality, social justice and equity in all issues relating to the education and care of children from birth to eight years. ECA is a not-for-profit membership based organisation. It also has a successful retail and publishing arm, producing a number of very well regarded subscription based publications including the Australian Journal of Early Childhood. Samantha holds a Master’s Degree in (Community) Management from the University of Technology, Sydney and she is a Graduate of the Company Directors course offered by the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Her passion is for social equality and she has worked in the non-government sector for 20 years across roles encompassing service delivery, executive management, consulting, social policy analysis and advocacy. She has extensive experience in the development and implementation of social policy and sector development projects.

6 thoughts on “So much more than care”

    Gael Nash says:

    Please get a bit more gutsy and stop being so nice. Tell it how it is – no sugar coating and sucking up to the politicians. The Coalition are dismantling Family Day Care at the moment. They are not interested in the education of our very young children and they do not value the people who are educating them. They have no plan to resolve the underlying dysfunction of the ECEC system in this country. They want women to be in the workforce and doing it on the backs of other women. There is a deeply rooted misconception in our society because it is still just child care to the majority. A huge campaign needs to be put together to educate the population about what a quality ECEC system should look like, why educators must be valued more through improved wages and conditions, why their quality of education and training is so important, why it benefits everyone in society economically and socially. All evidence based measured arguments. Samantha you should have been way more prepared to get these points across in a powerful voice. Missed opportunity.

    Gael Nash says:

    You can’t uphold children’s rights without upholding the rights of the people who are working with them.

    Sam Page says:

    Thanks for your feedback Gael, I don’t agree with several of your points but appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

    Olivia Sinclair-Thomson says:

    Hi Sam,

    I totally and utterly agree. What is constantly missing from all debates about child-care are the rights and needs of the child. This whole program talked about the costs and the access for parents to child care, but it seems to me that no one really has any interest in what is the best outcome for children. We seem as a nation to be so involved and obsessed actually with the economics of this debate. There is a place for child-care in our community but it must not be provided at the expense of the development of the most vulnerable members of society. Not everything in the world that is valuable has a cost or an economic reason ( although as you point out Sam the optimum development of children will aid us economically in the long-run). Good article – unfortunately it seems to fall on deaf ears.

    Sally Burt says:

    Sam – thank you for such a thoughtful reflection. As a Masters of Teaching (Early Childhood) student I was thrilled that SBS Insight was covering this topic but I was also terribly dismayed at the lack of focus the program gave to the educational needs of children. I am a parent and, hence, very sympathetic to the parental needs that were voiced. However, I wholeheartedly concur that we need to get a greater conversation happening in the community regarding the key early childhood issues you raise: namely, why quality matters; and the critical role of education and educators. Q&A would be a fantastic forum!!

    Wendy says:

    We too had a FDC educator on the insight program that would of love to talk more about the learning the babies, toddlers and children do each and everyday. I do understand that this taping was to highlight only one area. Let hope that they do it again one soon and give us more of a voice to advocate for children rights to learn through play and promote the quality learning that happens everyday. I do understand that you probably said more in the taping, but understand that you don’t have any control over how the show edits that’s either. Well done for what you did manage to say.

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