Tony blog #4- 31.03.13

Childcare has been around for as long as there have been people. In 2010 I heard Margaret Sims speak at an early childhood seminar in Armidale about the way family structures have changed over time. I was interested to hear that it has only been in the past 60-odd years in the western world that the idea of single family units (“the modern family: mum, dad and 2.5 children”) has occurred. Prior to this, and still occurring around the world families have relied on each other and social groups to provide care for the sick, young and elderly. It was never just mother’s work. Dual-working parents are nothing new either. In traditional Aboriginal cultures around the world young able-bodied adults were required to provide food for themselves and their social group whether they had children or not. We have come a long way and not so far either. The question of what to do with the children while we work can be a difficult one for modern families.

Modern childcare or ‘formal childcare’ in Australia includes preschool, long daycare, family daycare and school-age care services and as a group it is a booming ‘industry’. But believe it or not it is still not the most popular form of childcare. Despite massive social changes in the past 60 years including changes to what is considered a ‘normal’ family unit modern families still rely on each other and share parenting roles with grandparents, relatives and friends. If you do a quick search on the Australian Bureau of Statistics on your local town or suburb you will find that the number of children under 5 years (or under 12 years for school age care providers) greatly outnumbers the available formal childcare places available in your town or suburb. But this does not mean that there is a massive demand for formal childcare. The care still has to be good otherwise the kids can stay home!

When ABC Learning (a publicly-listed Australian early childhood service provider) went into receivership in 2008 roughly 25% of the 1,000-odd services had very low attendance (mostly regional services). A quick search for private childcare services for sale online can reveal many services that are operating below 50% attendance and owners are under the pump.

On the other hand, demand for quality childcare is huge. Over the past ten years I have seen some amazing and inspirational community (aka council or state owned) and privately owned childcare centres. Quality trained staff and positive learning environments consistently provide positive learning outcomes for children (as do responsive parents and quality home environments!). Childcare is very important. Research consistently shows that the first 3-8 years of a child’s life helps to form his or her beliefs, attitudes and self-esteem for life. Economic studies have shown that for every dollar invested in the early childhood sector is worth up to $17 in future spending on children once they reach 16 years (for example, early intervention into a ‘troubled’ family is cheaper than using corrective services once the child is 16 years, etc). This economic model should flip our current educational system on its head. Studies such as this show that investment in early childhood is not just worthwhile but critical to the success of a nation in the long term. Instead of preschool providing school readiness activities we could be looking at alternative models such as those proposed by Howard Gardner and Daniel Goleman that help children develop skills for life. Unfortunately for the past 100 years children have been sent to school predominantly to keep them off the streets and to get an ‘education’. They are taught to follow instructions and be quiet while the teacher ‘teaches’. Schools help children get ready for university. Schools help children get ready to become an employee. No wonder most of us finished school and had no idea what to do (or who we were!).

I think there is some confusion as to what education is. I think an education is what we learn from the people and environment around us and that it develops from within. Children don’t have to go to preschool to get an early childhood education. I repeat: Children don’t have to go to preschool to get an early childhood education. They learn from everything around them and from doing things themselves. This could be in Nanna’s garden picking flowers, at preschool making mud pies (if allowed), at home singing with mum or wrestling with dad or on their own.

Good educators are partners in children’s learning not ‘teachers’. Children should be taught to think and be creative and to solve problems with other people! I am a big fan of strength-based training and apprenticeship programs. We need educators that can be responsive to children’s needs and provide support for children to learn in the ways that suit them best. However attitudes like this fly against the grain for most and for many people (including politicians) children are seen as little people who are not yet productive. They are herded to childcare then up the road to Big School then to High School then off to ‘work’. Unfortunately for parents there is not a lot of choice when it comes to what to do with the kids when they go to work. Parents do the best they can for themselves and their children. Unfortunately for early childhood service providers quality staff and staff training costs money. Unfortunately for most early childhood workers the pay they receive does not reflect the value of the work they are doing. It is up to communities and governments to realize the value of early childhood education. (Note: Australian governments have recognized the importance of early childhood ‘care’ for working parents for over twenty years and subsidise parents fees in approved childcare settings and I am a huge fan of all the childcare workers and researchers that continue to improve the quality of Australian childcare!)

I have worked in childcare and early childhood education for over ten years. I have earned over a quarter of a million dollars ($30,000 x 10)! (wow, it sounds impressive when I write it like that! Where did that go?!). I have completed a traineeship, a diploma and a teaching degree. It is not how much I earn or what I have learned that is important but the value I am to the people and children that are around me. Childcare is not an easy job. The hours can be long, the pay is comparatively low and many services and parents forget to thank the staff for the work they do each day! But it is very rewarding and hopefully if we do our jobs right we are helping children develop skills for life. So for all the childcare/early childhood educators out there advocating for higher pay and more recognition, don’t stop! 🙂 but please remember at the end of the day that;

Money can pay for the things that we want and it is nice to get recognition but every minute spent with a child is a good investment!

Let me know what you think by posting a comment or sharing this blog with your friends. Spread the word; Childcare is awesome!

Note: I apologise for the lack of referencing in this post. It is a blog aka my thoughts and feelings but I am happy to provide further references from my study at university to anyone interested. It would be nearly impossible but very valuable for me to recognize the wide range of influences I have had throughout my childcare career. Also thank you to all the local newspaper that picked up my story last week. Check it out at http://www.portnews.com.au/story/1390575/trailblazer-tony-preparing-to-educate-one-of-his-own/?cs=257 The response to this blog adventure has been amazing.

PS. Alana is well and the baby continues to grow! More to come (very soon! 🙂

Margaret Sims. 2010. “Cross cultural parenting practices and the impact of multiple carers on the young child”. The Early Years Conference 2010 (Disk 1).
Don and Patricia Edgars. 2009. “The New Child”. Wilkonson Publishing Pty Ltd, Melbourne.
Daniel Goleman. 1996. “Emotional Intelligence”. Bloomsbury Publishing, London
Howard Gardner. 2011. “The Unschooled Mind”. Basic Books, New York