Profile of an Early Years Professional
The day begins peacefully, the word “Zen” springs to mind. This is the part of the day when the adults get to converse about important adult work related topics. We appreciate these precious moments of calm, as this is indeed the calm before the storm. These golden minutes are an opportunity to organise the materials needed for the coming day’s activities which you have usually prepped from the night before. Ironically not so long ago I spent the evening cutting out 150 red paper hearts, all whilst watching Grey’s Anatomy!! The activities and prep covers a wide spectrum depending on the month, season or time of year. You could be digging compost into pots, to plant some seeds to grow some “Enormous turnips” or organising paints and coloured card for the imminent glitter and glue eruption.
At 9.00 a.m. the storm arrives (AKA energy laden children), all be it a soft shower first, with morning greetings and help with school bags and jackets. Then as more children arrive the pressure increases to tsunami proportions all adult conversation is abandoned, instead you turn your “multi-ear listening super power” (develops only with time) which gives you the capability to listen to and answer at least six anecdotes and questions simultaneously, whilst still on your knees helping take off coats. (Most mothers have already developed this skill!!)
Preschool teachers have to have a multitude of skills. We also become avid weather watchers. The ideal day is one which begins outside. The children enter the yard and begin their day by running, climbing and cycling away all of that pent up excess energy. The teachers all the while very mindful as to how wonderful it is that the children are getting the opportunity to build up their gross motor skills!!
The day continues with the large group of 22 being broken up into 2 groups of 11. One group will head off to do their Montessori work, which develops their fine motor and cognitive skills. The second group stay together for some preschool play. We have many activities to choose from the toy room, sand and water room, play dough or music and movement to name but a few.
Allowing the children time for unstructured free play gives the children the opportunity to interact with each other and so developing their social and emotional skills. The adult gets to develop their own negotiation skills to such an extent that we become convinced we will eventually attain a central role in the UN!! The war torn toy room also must be tidied after each session and that takes some in-depth discussions and compromise.
Another alternative is the sand and water room. This is a wonderful quiet time when the children get immersed in play. This is a perfect opportunity for the children to hone the 5 areas of child development i.e. Physical, Intellectual, Linguistic, Emotional and Social skills.
As teachers we are very aware that this is not just play but the start of exploration and a taste of science. Pouring, sculpting, rough, smooth, sticky, soft, wet, dry, this is some of the beautiful language we get to use with the children when explaining the different properties and uses of sand and water. However we refrain from using any language at tidy up time as at this point there is usually sand in every eye, pocket and shoe and of course a light dusting on every child’s head. No matter how water proof the aprons claim to be, short of gluing them to the children inevitably some of them end up wet. So now along with nappy checking and changing, there are sweaters and even vests to be changed too. (Again mothers are way ahead with this particular expertise)
Examples of some other activities are, movement and music, where you get to call on your inner child by marching, dancing and singing away to your hearts content. The beauty is that your adoring fans don’t care if you can or cannot sing, you are Beyoncé in their eyes, you are centre stage and your fans reach up high, down low, turn around and head, shoulders knees and toes it, as for those 20 minutes you are their rock star.
Play dough is another super rainy day option. This does involve eating a lot of imaginary birthday cakes and admiring googly eyed monsters and making endless snakes but all the time working on the children’s colours and fine motor skills i.e. building the muscles in their hands. Doing arts and crafts with 11 children has all the intensity of preforming open heart surgery, as you must keep everybody calm, safe and entertained whilst trying to help and guide them in making their precious valentines cards (remember the 150 hearts) all in less than 20 minutes. Close your eyes think, paint, glue, glitter, card, scissors, 3 and 4 year olds all together in a room with just you…. I bet your heart is beating quite fast.
Lunch time soon arrives. “Ah!” you might think some repose perhaps. This is a specific type of lunch remember, a lunch that needs help getting out, getting eaten, getting back in again. A “cleaning spills, using bin, sweeping floor and wiping tables” lunch. If you are really lucky you may get to bite your own apple but beware whatever you take out of your bag will be scrutinised, colour coded and asked to be shared. I am also going to take this opportunity to tell you that all teachers hate yogurts with a passion. After lunch we swap groups and get to do it all over again with another group.
This leads us up to home time, if we are blessed with a fine day we get coats on, again with the madness, because now they know we are going outside and the excitement and expectation exceeds even my earlier rock star concert. We can do some planting or structured play, obstacle courses etc. or we can just allow them to be children and enjoy free play. If rain stops play, we sit and have story time, again I must call on my puppet and story telling skills for these last few minutes and watch the delighted faces as the big bad wolf falls yet again into the little pigs pot of boiling water.
As the children begin to head home it is nice to have a little chat with parents at the door to give them a reassuring chat about how their child’s day went. “Zen” time soon returns and the adults get to take a breath and too tired to chat begin the tidy up and cleaning process. The bins are emptied, tables, toilets, floors are all cleaned and sterilised so in the event of a H.S.C inspection in the morning everything is ship shape.
Let me end by saying that this is a fast moving, quite stressful and emotional job. It is not one for the faint hearted. It helps to be active, fit and of course to really like children. You can ace all of your Early Learning Childhood exams but if children annoy you or you struggle with your inner child then maybe this is not the job for you.
On a lighter note, it is so very rewarding to watch the little scared tearful faces from September turn into confident, happy, school ready children who will always hold a little space in your heart. Children who you will meet maybe in a few years time and some might remember you and some may not but you know that you taught that child to make a sand castle or roll a snake or plant some flowers and had a hand in the very early stages of that child’s development.