From the second you meet your child, all you long for is to keep them safe and protected. We watch with anticipation as they take their first breath, walk their first step and say their first word. We build a wall of safety around them, knowing already that the world is not always a good place and that our job is to protect their tiny hearts, minds and bodies.
Sometimes, as a parent, we are not able to be there for our little ones. Outside the beautiful cocoon of parenthood still exist careers and deadlines and duties. This is one of the reasons parents look to early childhood care for their new additions as early as six weeks after birth. Alternatively, we may seek an avenue for our new humans to broaden their worlds, even if childcare isn’t a requirement, it’s a necessity for the expansion of their social environment and safety net. Whichever reason leads a parent to the exploration of childcare and early learning centres one thing is certain, they are looking for care to be at the heart.
So how do we know that someone will care for our children the way we would care for them ourselves? The environment created by a centre for the care of children is fundamental in allowing parents a feeling of security, and children a feeling of safety. If the parents can gain from the staff a feeling of warmth and care, then it is likely that their children will feel this also. Children feed off the connection they sense between their parents and educators, a positive one will allow them to trust this person and extend their current wall of safety out to include the educator and, by extension, the centre.
The circle of security talks of a secure base for children to leave from to explore the world around them but also a safe haven for children to again return to. By meeting these relationship needs, both parents and educators are able to facilitate an environment of safety and learning for a child. The parent can welcome the educator in as an extension of their circle and the child will respond to this by allowing an additional safe haven to return to or look for. This also addresses an important phrase in Early Childhood Education; Belonging, Being and Becoming. A space for children to feel a sense of connectedness outside of their home as well as feeling embraced and accepted for their own individual personalities. Read more here.
Relationships also allow for individualised learning. Our children are unique – every single one different and we expect educators to see this as well. Your child doesn’t learn the same as another and has different needs and wants. It is important for parents and educators to observe and facilitate these individual needs so that a child feels secure and important. Intentionality builds on a child’s strengths. It is a proactive and personal approach to relating to children that allows for shared thinking and the engagement of children; allowing them to feel capable and confident.
Intentional teaching involves educators being thoughtful, purposeful and deliberate in their decisions and actions. (Intentional teaching is an active process and a way of relating to the children that embraces and builds on their strengths.)” – The Early Years Learning Framework.
The environment is also a key factor in ensuring a child’s stress is at a healthy level. Although natural stress is vital to development in the sense of problem solving, the acquisition of new skills or building a child’s knowledge base, toxic stress has been proven to have a severely adverse effect on children’s brains and their learning. During the period of 0-5 a child’s brain is doing its best to set up your child for a lifetime, developing more at this time than at any other stage in their life. Therefore, although they need to be extending and exploring, we also need to be making sure they are protected and nurtured during this development. We, as carers, are holding extremely special seedlings in our hands and we need to ensure we know how best to tend to them.
It’s critical to distinguish between “toxic stress” and normal stress. In the context of a reasonably safe environment where children have protective relationships with adults, childhood stress is not a problem. In fact, it promotes healthy growth, coping skills and resilience. It becomes harmful when it is prolonged and when adults do not interact in ways that make children feel safe and emotionally connected.” Jack P. Shonkoff, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
So, care is at the centre of all things in early childhood education, but does it end there? Care is the basis for learning and parents now are looking for more than just a place for their child to be looked after. So what does care plus look like and how is it measured? A child who has been able to explore their own learning in a secure and safe environment will show you. They are self-regulating and confident, capable and connected. They are able to learn independently and know how to respond to feelings and emotions in an appropriate way. They are brave enough to step outside but connected enough to find you again. They will have learnt the principles of social interaction and build basic life skills for their future. They will welcome your warm embrace and the safety of your touch without relying on you being there to develop. You will witness the emergence of a beautiful global citizen that is a product of the care-filled environment you facilitated for them.