A story of self-care within early childhood education and care

I was very fortunate to attend the Early Learning Summit hosted by The Front Project in Canberra late last year. On the journey home, I found myself reflecting on the conversations and future visions for our sector along with a lingering question: Why did I choose this career?

Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

I didn’t begin my career knowing I wanted to be a teacher. I completed a Psychology degree straight out of high school but after graduating at 21, I still felt unsure about what I wanted to do. I spent a year travelling and working overseas—first as a summer camp counsellor and then a nanny. It was during this time that I discovered my love of working with children and I returned home to enrol in an education degree.

Over the next couple of years, I found myself continually explaining and defending my decision that yes, I was studying to be a teacher and no, I did not want to work in a school. Confusion and vocal opinions on the status of ‘teaching’ (yes, they actually did the air quotes) in early childhood settings compared to teaching in schools were commonplace. This is where my advocacy began.

Years later, during further study, I would come to understand that my preference for early childhood teaching wasn’t based on the age of the children, the setting, or even my combative nature leading me down a different path—it was the pedagogy of early childhood teaching that drew me in.

I now realise that I philosophically and fundamentally fit with early childhood pedagogy. At my core, I believe a play-based approach is always the most meaningful and authentic way to learn—regardless of age. I believe care is an essential aspect of education, throughout the lifetime. I also believe that it takes a village to raise children—I value collaboration, different perspectives, and respect for our youngest children above all else. My philosophy on life fits well with my chosen career and this, at its essence, is self-care.

As I reflect back on more than 20 years in this profession, I can see all the crossroads in my career pathway where I sought out and chose joy—these were opportunities for self-care. I chose the path I was most passionate about (and for anyone who has worked with me they know this is babies and toddlers).

In early childhood education and care, opportunities for self-care can be found in both the practical everyday and in the overarching path of a career journey.

On a micro level:

  • Finding and embedding daily rituals in our work with children, families, and colleagues. Recognising these moments to slow down, be present, and connect. This is self-care, and care for others too.
  • Remaining aware that early childhood teaching is fundamentally relationship-based work. It can simultaneously nurture and drain us. We need to take time every day to ‘fill our bucket’. Some daily rituals I observed from other teachers over the years are simple but effective:
    • Seeking out a space in nature for a few minutes every day.
    • Practicing gratitude for a few minutes every day.
    • Sharing an unrushed cup of tea or coffee with a colleague.
    • Initiating or joining in play with children.

On a macro level:

  • Taking every opportunity to connect and learn from those around us. Joining or creating a professional network. Surrounding ourselves with others who understand our profession and goals, and who themselves have professional goals.
  • Not only seeking knowledge from people who inspire us but being open to new ideas. Reading, watching, and listening to those with differing opinions, asking questions, and appreciating different standpoints. Disagreeing can positively impact our wellbeing, too. When we better understand why we believe what we believe, it strengthens our self-awareness.
  • Recognising our interests within early childhood teaching and dedicating energy to pursuing our passion projects. This might be further study, teaching in different places and cultures, or choosing a career path in education outside of the classroom.
  • Being an advocate—not just for children and families, but for ourselves and our work.

‘People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.’ – Michel Foucault

For me, self-care and professional wellbeing is found in continuing to strive to understand ‘what I do does’. I wish both current and future early childhood professionals success to discover and know your impact, too.

ECA Recommends: Early childhood educator wellbeing

This Everyday Learning Series title explores the questions: How often do educators actually think about supporting their own wellbeing? Do educators consider that, before they can facilitate children’s wellbeing, they need to look after themselves first? It is difficult for early childhood educators to work well, build relationships with colleagues, children or families, or be role models for the children they teach, if they are unwell, unhappy or burnt out. Whether educators work in early learning centres, kindergartens, child care, family day care, outside school hours care or schools, their self-care is crucial in order to support children’s learning and development.

Tanya Burr

Tanya is a lecturer and researcher in the School of Education at ACU in Brisbane. She is currently completing her PhD at Macquarie University with her research focus on infant and toddler pedagogy. Tanya has a background in psychology and the early years. She has worked as a teacher, centre director, and early childhood consultant for state-based and national organisations for the past 20 years.

2 thoughts on “A story of self-care within early childhood education and care”

    Navjot sandhu says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey. When I was reading, I loved and agreed with you. Children’s voices are always critical to me. I agree that I should advocate myself at work for my well and the purpose of graduation. As you say, when we disagree with something, it positively impacts us to think about what we believe and why we believe, strengthening us and exactly happening to me right now as an early childhood teacher with a huge passion. Your article gives me the strength to make clear a motive for being a teacher.

    Tanya Burr says:

    Thank you Navjot, wishing you success and joy on your advocacy journey as an early childhood teacher!

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