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What makes a great early childhood educator?

Foundation Early Learning

It takes a special kind of person to be an early childhood educator. When speaking with one recently about the work she does, she said;

I care for each and every child that comes my way as if they were my own for eight hours a day. They all leave an impression on my heart and hopefully I leave one on theirs”

Although often misunderstood as being less important than primary or secondary teaching, early childhood education is now being realised for exactly how important it is. With children learning more life skills in their first five years than at any other point in their development, early childhood educators have a critical role to play in developing young minds. So, what does it take to be a successful childhood educator and how do we measure it?

Like with most careers, we start at the beginning, a fundamental passion for childhood education. This is not merely a love of children or a sense of fun but also an understanding of a child’s developmental milestones and the importance of them reaching each of these.

In environments where play-based learning is key, a creative flair is an asset. Children are fast to learn adult limitations and constantly searching for new outlets for their creative abilities. Finding creative ways to engage children is a skill unlike those that can be taught. The use of play in learning is crucial;

The dispositions for learning, such as curiosity, openness, optimism, resilience, concentration, and creativity are developed in play. Playing is linked to the development of resilience and the beginnings of empathy as children begin to understand other points of view.” – Early childhood Australia 

Within the Pikler principles, educators are taught to be calm and controlled, with a smoothness to their instruction. They create stress-free environments because they understand the importance it has on the child. Educators in this philosophy are observation-focused, being careful not to impede the child’s natural ability to learn for themselves. A child needs to develop their own independent learning whilst under the careful eye of their educators.

Pikler educators are patient with children, as they know the best results are crafted from allowing children the time to work through situations at their own speed. These children are becoming resilient and self-regulated but know that the care and safety of their trusted person is close. Children are treated with respect and empathy and their emotions are acknowledged. It is more a partnership than a hierarchy.

So how does a child know they are safe? A bond between an educator and a child’s carer is a successful first step to creating a circle of security for the child. By welcoming the educator into their trusted circle, children are extending the familiar warmth of their home safety into a new, outside environment. This practice will allow them to explore, and return to be nurtured when necessary.

By creating a secure environment, educators are able to maximise positive experiences for a child, and individualise their learning. Every child is different and a good educator knows this. They are able to identify traits in children – their strengths and weaknesses – and not only help them to flourish in the things they excel at, but also work through the things they may not.

A good educator is aware of the indicators of a child’s wellbeing. They understand that external factors such as toxic stress have a great effect on children, as do internal factors such as fear of new environments or lack of confidence. They are ready to combat these factors with a calm approach and predictable reaction, enough to allow a child to feel safe again. In a circle of security, children move freely as educators stay in one place, allowing the children to know where their safe base is to return to. Children sense panic so these educators are calm and non-reactive, assuring a sense of composure. Educators in this realm of childcare adhere to the mantra;

 “Be Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind” – Circle of security

In an environment inspired by Reggio Emilia, Pikler, or any of the philosophies we have discussed, a common theme runs deep. That educators are a special bread of person, tasked with raising our most precious gifts. They respect children and work with them rather than above them. There is a symphony of partnership – the beautiful relationship between a child and those closest to them. They are teaching our children much more than knowledge alone, they are teaching them the skills of life that will take them through their entire journey of learning.

Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by; instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water. Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning and how to learn.” Loris Malaguzzi

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