Tony blog post #2- 17.03.13

Hi my name is Tony Kee and I am an early childhood educator and expectant father. After ten years working in ‘childcare’ (or ‘early childhood education’ depending on which side of the fence you sit on) I am about to with my beautiful wife, Alana, embark on the journey of having my own child to provide love, care and ‘education’. Look out! So this is my blog, my journal, my tribute to my wife, my baby, my family and 10 years of childcare wrapped up into the final ten week countdown. If all goes to plan I aim to write ten posts, one per week, in the countdown to May 17th (our due date) for the benefit of myself and anyone else who appreciates my crazy take on life as we know it.

When I first started in childcare in 2002 I had only one male childcare role model to compare myself to, my dad. He had become Mr. Mum for a couple of years after my youngest sister Rachael was born (Happy birthday sis! 17 today!). I had been around childcare centres since I was young and was fairly familiar with the routines and work so I wasn’t surprised when I started and there were no other males around me. I instantly enjoyed the work and loved the kids. The women I worked with were caring and creative and funny and there was so much to learn at first I tended not to notice the lack of male presence (i.e. the lack of burping, bad jokes and body odour, etc!). However it wasn’t too long before I started noticing differences in educator’s perspectives, communication styles and interests and I began to question what I was doing here and why there weren’t any other men in my profession. I didn’t care about chocolate, shopping or shoes. I didn’t need to share my feelings with my co workers. I didn’t understand why sometimes women just cry? And I didn’t have anyone to talk to about football or surfboats! I felt like I was being gipped! All my friends were tradies! (Note: over time, all of these issues have been resolved in some way or another. In Queensland I worked with a surfboat rowing family who happened to own a childcare centre! I have also met and learned about many men that work and have worked in early childhood. Currently I work at a centre with four other guys! I also learned women’s perspectives on so many issues you could fill an encyclopedia!)

There are many ways that men and women are different (and trust me, that is a massive can of worms! DO NOT OPEN THIS CAN IN A CHILDCARE STAFF ROOM! PLEASE!) but one of the defining issues for me (that still occurs to this day) is watching what happens when a child falls over in a childcare centre or in a home environment and how women and men react. The typical scenario would play out like this…

Child playing alongside friends or near educator. Child trips or falls and lands with a thump (in any combination of: onto knees, elbows or face first into a sandpit, etc.). Educator drops everything (including notebooks, toys and other children) and rushes to scoop up child like a marine helicopter extraction team and then cuddles and comforts the child until they work out what was wrong (if anything!).

Now I’m not saying don’t be compassionate or caring if a child (especially someone else’s child whose care has been entrusted to you for the day) falls or is hurt but I never quite got the “swoop in” reaction. I’ve seen plenty of children fall down and pick themselves back up again (apparently its part of life!). I’ve even seen children fall down, look around for attention, not receive it, then pick themselves up and keep playing (sneaky little children! They’ve got you covered mums and dads out there!). Is it my manliness that wants to see how tough and brave each little trooper at preschool is? I don’t think so. Am I uncaring? No, I don’t think so. But it has nearly always been my natural reaction when I see a child fall (there have been some exceptions of course!) to visually and audibly check (this takes 1/50th of a second) if it looks serious and then say something along the lines of, “Up you get, are you ok?” and encourage the child to help THEMSELVES up!

This may sound like a small point but I used to beat myself up so much challenging my manhood and place in the world and early childhood industry because I didn’t respond in the same way to the women around me!

Over time and with study and reflection I realized I do belong in childcare and I am a huge fan of developing children’s self-esteem, confidence and resilience in safe and controlled ways. Of course childcare workers have a huge responsibility to care for many children each day and to appropriately report and minimize accidents that cause harm. Just don’t wrap your kids in cotton wool!

Some of the other differences I noted were attitudes towards perceived risk and affection in childcare settings. I don’t know if it’s in my nature or nurture to be rough and tumble but environments that discourage being active or minimize opportunities to move are not impressive or attractive to me/men. Is this a factor in men not entering the early childhood profession? I think it is!

I also don’t think its men’s natural reaction to be overly cuddly, especially in childcare settings. For the record I am a cuddly and affectionate person (God I hope my mates don’t read this!) and I know many men that are, especially to their own children or children in their family.

Seeing other men with their own children was the defining point for me after questioning (and being questioned) why I was in childcare. I just look around and see men with their own children, big brothers with their younger siblings and uncles with their nieces and nephews. Men are awesome with kids!!

Seriously guys if you are good with kids in your own family consider childcare as a career. It’s great! You get to be active and play ALL day. Kids get you and love to be around you (How many of us have REALLY grown up??) and best of all, at the end of the day, you hand the kids back and go home. Of course there are some other less than pleasant issues to deal with (like anything that can be chewed, spewed or poo’d but that’s actually pretty easy to deal with). The hardest part is usually getting along with women at work (but I can teach you all about this, check out my upcoming post “Childcare: the Chocolate economy!”)

In 2004 I was interviewed for an article in the Daily Telegraph about men in childcare. They quoted only 2% of the industry are men! I don’t know how much things have changed since then. Childcare has a long way to go to becoming perceived as a balanced ‘gender’ profession so let’s get more men in childcare. Let’s make childcare centres ‘man-friendly’. No I don’t mean turn them into man-land but I honestly watch tradesmen and fathers enter childcare centres every day and see their eyes go wide and their posture get shaky as they see the kids and breast feeding pictures and something in their eyes screams “this is not a safe place for men” and they get out of there as fast as they can! (Why do you think they ALWAYS forget the children’s belongings! haha).

I am a third generation early childhood educator and I am passionate about children, families and surfboat rowing. Let me know what you think about my posts please share any tips for future fatherhood!