Jake watches as his playmates continue to add to the tower. The blocks sway as Janine stomps toward the group, her arms extended wide. Giggling and falling over each other, the towers are knocked down, showering blocks over the children. “Did you see?” Janine asks, “Did you see how I knocked the towers, like on TV?” While the children twitter, Jake clings to his teacher, eyes wide, as he asks “Why did they do that to the towers Why did they want to kill all those people?” How would you want your child to be answered
“First of all, I’d have to establish with Jake what he knew about the event, and what his understanding was,” says Christine. “If the child was worried about a terrorist attack occurring in Sydney, I would explain that it’s unlikely it would happen here however, it is possible, as many people have different views and ideas about the value of life.”Christine believes that by promoting children as investigators, you allow the child understanding in an equal environment. “Each child, person ” everyone – understands the world in their own way, and as a child it is normal to have many questions about life and their place in the world. In order to liberate and educate the children, it is necessary to honestly answer these questions.”
Christine has worked in childcare for over thirty years, both in Argentina and Australia, and is currently employed as the Director of a preschool caring for over fifty children. She entered the childcare industry after spending time studying psychology and philosophy. Her motivation is the desire to extract the potential that all children harness, and to guide them by imparting her own wisdom and knowledge. She has completed her Bachelor in Teaching and Masters of Education in Early Childhood, and believes that following a discipline which encourages respect and social equity between teachers and their students, is the best way to ready young children for the world they will soon be exposed to. Her nurturing instinct, she believes, is caused by her desire to provide for children what she lacked as a child ” an environment conducive to learning and growth. “Like… a saviour of humanity. I know it sounds ridiculous, but these children are going to be the future leaders of our planet. We need to realise their full potential!”
“Don’t worry about that. It won’t happen here, I promise you’ll be safe. Come on, let’s go play in the yard.” Ellen believes that when asked difficult questions, the children don’t have the capacity to hear the truth. “Sometimes it’s necessary to talk down to the kids. They don’t need to know everything ” it will only scare them.” Ellen knows that in the future they will be able to find answers to their questions. “They have their whole life ahead of them. I don’t want them to be worried about dying just yet.”
Employed as a nanny for two years now, Ellen has also been babysitting for three years previous. It was a job she fell into, before discovering she had a passion for aiding the development of children. “I think it’s their capacity to fascinate, amaze, intrigue me. They’re so innocent, so cute, the way they go about life. It’s just incredible to watch them develop. I feel so proud of their achievements.” She completed her Certificate III in childcare at TAFE and fulfilled the required work experience at a long day care centre in Sydney. She was soon offered a fulltime nanny position with a family she baby-sat regularly for. She has been with the children, Archie and Gus, who are four and two respectively, for the past six months. While feeling that it is to her disadvantage, career-wise, not to have finished her diploma or taken on a University degree, Ellen doesn’t think she’d ever go back to TAFE. “The Certificate III is adequate training to work with children.”
The Government agrees. To work with children in NSW, a Certificate III in Childcare is required, as well as a current First Aid Certificate, and a Working with Children Check. “Its not like TAFE certified childcare workers have more or less to offer ” it’s just that there are different things to provide for the child,” Ellen says. “It’s really not necessary to learn about discipline and philosophy in relation to children – a lot of it is just experience.”
Christine opposes this view. “Basic training is never enough. That’s why I kept studying to achieve my Masters Degree, and why I will continue my education until I leave early childcare. To deal with people, there are always new ideas, new theories being born. We need to continue to refine our practice.” To gain certification as a director, she is required to have knowledge of the NSW Children’s Services Regulations 2004, which, for example, discuss ratios and staff requirements. There must be an understanding of Australian OHS standards, Privacy Acts, Child Protection legislation, Childcare Management Systems, the Australian Code of Ethics, and Code of Conduct must be recognised and adhered to at all times. It seems a lot to have to comply with, but as Christine tells me, when it comes to working with the young minds of the future, you must be dedicated to excellence.
While there are rules and guidelines set out by the state, the centre can only be run under the values and philosophy of the Director. The approach that is taken is the choice of the Director; Christine believes the most effective discipline is that of Reggio Emilia. Through this philosophy, based on the poststructuralist thinking of the late twentieth century ” poststructuralist in its emphasis on the unendingness of social process, the complexities of power, and how knowledge itself is bound in power -allows those practicing the discipline to treat children in like of an understanding that is deeply philosophical and intuitively sociological. In this sense, the children and the teacher are able to work as investigators together, both learning to respect, and accept the other.
The Reggio Emilia approach follows the idea that children have control over the direction of their learning, encouraging a relationship with other children and with the material items in the world they explore, learning through the use of their senses and acknowledgement that children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves. The poststructuralist philosophy emphasises the importance of children and teachers learning together, invoking a sense of collegiality between them. The children are trusted to ask the important questions in order to make sense of the world around them.
In this way, learning is conducive to the understanding of the world as each individual child sees it. The image of the child is presented as competent, confident, creative and as an individual. “Kids are fresh, natural beings. Brain circuits start developing once the child is born. The human brain is a complex tool, with the capacity to absorb much information. It is fundamental to use an approach which encourages creativity, nurtures curiosity and places importance on a quality environment and the quality of the resources provided,” Christine says.
An important aspect of the approach that Christine emphasises to her staff is Foucault’s idea that it is necessary to observe what is desirable in regards to culture, race, and gender, and how these factors create pockets of power. In assessing how gender affects power in early childhood, and encouraging the staff to work to find a balance in the centre, in particular regards to male and females excluding each other, competing, and fighting due to constructed gender roles, the bias that is developed by many at an early age, can be disposed of.
Ellen, on the other hand, finds it more difficult to answer questions raised by the children regarding sexuality and gender. “When Gus unzipped my jumper, and told me he could see my boobies, I was mortified. I had to explain to him that it was rude, and that you can’t invade someone’s personal space like that.” Ellen discussed the matter with the mother of the children, who reaffirmed Ellen’s position of authority over the boys and told them not to be rude again. Neither Ellen, nor Kylie, the boy’s mother, discussed the ideas of sexuality and gender with the children. “I just didn’t think it was my place to tell them about that. I’m glad Kylie supports me, I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Christine faces the problem of finding support in her centre very difficult. “The staff want to follow their traditional method, of the teacher as an authoritarian figure. I don’t want my centre to be run like an institution.” The setting is structured so the children feel at home, comfortable, respected and confident to grow as individuals in a safe environment.
Advances in research and theoretical approach are constantly being made in regards to early childhood. For this reason, Christine believes that the only way to develop professionally, is to keep up with new theories of early childhood, with a focus on brain research in early childhood, which has determined, according to experts that mind development begins as early as the first five years of life. In addition, there has been research presenting information regarding the stages of brain wiring, critical periods for brain development, and the role a nurturing and stimulating environment plays in brain development.
Further research will always be needed when discussing development and neuroscience. What we know now, is that children must be nurtured and encouraged, no matter which discipline they are placed under. Christine and Ellen both entered the childcare profession because of their passion to make a difference in the lives of the potential future of the world. The Reggio Emilia structure, however, is a proven successful approach, which places the children in control of their own learning. Their view of the world is respected, and they develop in a way that is appropriate for them as an individual.