Preschool, Child, Care, Babysitting. Just All of it.
Updated: Jul 30
Early Childhood care and education (can they be separated?), has been in the news more and more these days. I've read that it will be a hot topic in the upcoming presidential election.
What about it? The need. The value. The cost. The quality. Paying teachers living wages. It's a lot to unravel, and I have been trying to wrap my head around it for a while now.
I am not even sure exactly what I want to say, so I will simply write and see what shakes out.
Okay. Here is one thing I know I want to say: I have recently read Facebook threads and blog posts asking and/or answering the question, why is teaching preschool more than "just babysitting."
To which, I wonder, why is babysitting, JUST babysitting? Why is caring for children in any capactiy looked upon with any disdain?
1. I thought we, as a society, cared for our children. We certainly talk as if we do. Then why is babysitting not an esteemed profession? Sure, parents take care of children, and they don't get paid for it. Sometimes we let teenagers do it. But, child care providers, nannies, and preschool teachers, all allow parents to go to work, which creates economic and emotional value for families. It creates equality for women.
And we care for children. The apples of peoples' eyes. The future. Small humans who when left alone, cannot survive or thrive, but in gentle, trustworthy, and attentive hands become the people we want in the world. People capable of love, of communication, of speaking up, of giving, of learning, of planning, of doing what they set their minds to and sticking with it even when it is hard.
As a preschool teacher, I interact with dozens of just babysitters on a daily basis. And, as with any profession, I have seen a wide variety of styles, passion, and skill in taking care of children. Some nannies I see, are simply showing up to their job, with just the basic level of care. But, really, almost ALL of the nannies I see care so deeply for the children in their care. They know them well, and they are thougthful and intelligent about their work. How lucky are those children who not only have a parent or parents who love and care for them? They have an entire other adult dedicated to their care and well being. How lucky are those parents who can go to work, knowing they have left their children in loving, attentive hands? Babysitters are not just anything. They are vital to helping families function. They are integral to the growth and development of the children in their care.
I simply don't understand why that is not a big deal.
2. When preschool teachers answer the question of our value, the list goes on and on about all the academic skills we teach children. And then the social and emotional skills as well. The papers that teachers fill out, the training they receive, and the standards they are held to are all supposed to make our jobs more valid. I think that a lot of that is just external drssing to make child care look important. But, honestly, I do not even believe that all of that is necessary to make early childcare, preschool, and young children themselves valuable.
I am skilled at my job. I view each interaction, whether I am with a child using the potty, observing and/or assisting a child who is working to get in and out of a chair, telling one to get a tissue, watching them choose a paintbrush at the easel, or supporting them as they attempt to write their names, as an educational moment. Often, my work is NOT helping them do something, and sometimes my work is teaching, guiding, modeling, assisting, doing. And knowing when to do each one. THAT is where my skill and my value come into play.
Why is my work only valuable of a child walks away knowing a color, a number, a letter, or a random bit of information?
My son worked in my preschool this summer, as a teacher's aide in summer camp. He too "gets it." He knows the work is watching, listening, joining children in their world and their play, and gently teaching them right there. At the ripe old age of 17, he said to me, "I don't understand why people think teaching little children is not a big deal. It is SO interesting. They are like the purest forms of human beings. And instead of teaching them just information, you are teaching them HOW TO BE."
I honestly cannot fathom why supporting children as their bodies develop, as they learn to be assertive to get what they need while still following social rules for kindness, compassion, sharing resources, and expressing their feelings, why that has less value then a squiggle on a page.
Now, to be sure, learning the alphabet and decoding skills, opens up an entire world of information, imagination, and learning. Hence, its importance. But a coordinated body with sophisticated social and emotional skills, create a strong vessel for all that information. Without hours and hours of play during which countless stories are told and listened to, how will they hone their reading comprehension?
A long time ago, a friend of mine told me of an encounter she had with an old mutual acquaintance of ours from my college days. My name came up in conversation, and my friend mentioned that I taught preschool. "Aliza's teaching preschool? I thought she was smart?" was the acquaintance's response. And God bless my friend who came back with, "Wouldn't you want someone smart teaching your child?"
Spending my days with two and three year olds, for almost 2 decades now, I can say this. I have never been bored. I am always intellectually challenged in my work. In the school where I teach, we spend pretty much our whole days playing. And eating snack, and going to the bathroom, and reading books, and building, and running. Most of which can be categorized as playing. But, I have never felt in all my years that we are "just playing."
Watching, and being fully present with children as they play has been endlessly fascinating.
Everyday, I feel like I am witnessing the miracle of life. This magical process just keeps unfolding before my eyes. The way those tiny creatures make their way into the world of school. Some jumping in and never looking back. Some coming in so slowly, holding onto a loved one for dear life. Watching each child, in their own way, learn to feel safe and be happy and productive in a new place; learning to trust their teachers; discovering the joy of playing with other children; and figuring out the mechanics of how to do it successfully. This is not a stage to rush through to get the "real stuff" of education. This is the real stuff.
Day in and day out, I observe children using simple materials, always creating stories, finding joy in discovering how the world works; The sound of blocks as they crash to the ground; The fact that yellow and blue make green (every single time); How if you grab a toy, someone will usually grab it back, but if you ask for a turn, they almost always say yes. I will never tire of hearing children delight at these discoveries.
I get to witness it all.
When I finish my mid-year reviews, and my directors say lovely things to me about the work I do creating a warm place where kids can be themselves (even those quirky, not quite ready to follow all the rules ones); Where they are safe and constantly learning and engaged; Where they can run, and climb, and play rough games without being told to stop or to be gentle. I leave those meetings feeling that when I die (morbid, I know), I will feel complete knowing that I spent my days making a safe space for children to grow. What a glorious way to make use of my time on this planet.
My son, at the end of his gig at camp had a glimpse of why I love what I do. He saw how rich it is. "I can kind of see doing this," he said. "But...the money. It pays so little."
And that hurts me because, children should get to be around people who love to be around them! Is that not worth paying for?
I could keep going into all the ways teachers think and plan and speak around children that reflect our skills. And all the ways that helps children learn. But, it would take a long time.
So what is my point in laying this all out here?
1. Caring for children is important. From taking care of their basic needs to teaching them early academic skills, and beyond. Does it even really need to be explained why?
2. Certainly, no one questions the value of teaching reading, math, social studies, and all the iterations of those subjects in grades k-12. States offer all that education to families for free. But what happens before children get to all that, I would argue, is just as rich, complex, and important. Learning does not only exist when you can represent it on a piece of paper. Anyone who thinks so, in my view, has a very limited vision of the human mind, of knowledge, and of the world. (Maybe because they did not play enough imaginative games as a child, and therefore have a more limited capacity to think abstractly?)
3. I guess at the back of all this, is the question, why are preschool teachers and childcare providers paid so little?
I know that I have quoted exactly zero pieces of research. It's been done. It is out there if you want to find it. I know the issue is more complex than I have explained here. But, I just wanted to strip away all the layers, and the arguments, the numbers, and the statistics, until I was left with the simple fact that young children matter. The people who care about them matter. Their learning matters. Even if it looks different from the learning of larger humans.
That is all.
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