Over the last two years, many industries have been deemed officially 'essential'. While they were always essential to a functioning society, teachers, nurses, doctors, cleaners, and supermarket employees are finally starting to receive (some) recognition for the work they do.
One group of essential workers that has helped families immensely both pre-and-post-pandemic is early childhood educators.
Responsible for teaching young children before they head off to primary school, early childhood teachers and educators play an important role in the transition. This is down to the fact that play-based learning is a powerful way to support children’s development into the school years and beyond.
If you have a child, or know anyone who does, then you’ll remember the Zoom classes, organised playtimes and attempts at keeping young children's attention span in check.
A survey conducted by the Australian Industry and Skills Committee found that in 2020, 97% of parents and carers of young children thought that early childhood education and care was important during the pandemic.
The hard work from these educators meant that families could continue to work and pay the bills and ensure that their children were meaningfully engaged and working towards their educational targets.
If you’re wondering what it takes to be an early childhood educator (aka a real-life hero) in 2022, read on.
You need excellent communication skills
Linda Price is an early childhood teacher at Kinglake Ranges Children’s Centre in regional Victoria. After spending over a decade building a career in media and communications, Linda’s daughter was stillborn, causing her to reassess her life path.
During her time in hospital and at her other children’s playgroup, she realised that a career in early childhood teaching could be a welcome change.
Early childhood educators work with children whose communication skills can range widely. With children's language developing rapidly, particularly from ages three to four, educators need to be able to assist and interact with all sorts of young people.
Price says that her studies in psychology and background in communication helped her become a better educator, bolstered by a Graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Teaching from RMIT. She shares the importance of communicating with young people:
“There was so much for me to learn in terms of neurological, social and cognitive development in children and how every single interaction with a child impacts their learning outcomes,” she says.
“We are going to need people like this in the future: people who can think, problem solve and who are resilient. To know that you had a big part in shaping that is really rewarding.”
It’s not all playtime, it’s play-based learning
While most people appreciate and respect the work that goes into educating children, others imagine that early childhood educators just sit around finger painting and playing dress-up all day. Melbourne-based early childhood teacher Molly Petruccelle says that’s not the full picture.
“A common belief in regards to the ECEC sector and in particular, being a teacher in this profession, is that we play all day. The truth is, we do. It is however, the ways we play and the ways in which we interact with children in these moments that teach them learning dispositions that are life-long skills,” she says.
“Without learning through play, children would not grow up to be curious, independent, responsible adults.”
So while you can expect a lot of fun, play and creativity in this essential role, remember that every task is designed to help these small humans become better communicators, friends, and people.
You need to be organised
As above, playtime has to come with a sense of routine and organisation. Developing minds need structure to learn and make sense of the world around them — especially now, when the world is more chaotic and unstable than ever.
You need organisation skills to plan your own lessons and playtime, but you can also pass these skills on to students.
These skills include teaching children self-care tasks such as eating and cleaning up after themselves, academic tasks like completing learning work as well as planning and sequencing skills where children understand their routine and what comes next in the day.
At a time where a lot of children's routines will have been disrupted, early childhood educators can become a place of stability and safety, making your work all the more gratifying.
Have time for all families and children
When working with children, you don't just interact with them but their entire family. Being an early childhood educator means learning how to work alongside all types of people, families and parents to achieve the best possible outcomes for the child.
Early childhood educator Salina Collins credits her previous career in sales with giving her the much-needed people skills that come with early childhood education.
“You learn how to engage and relate with people and work together towards shared goals,” says the Swinburne University Bachelor of Education graduate.
"I’ve definitely called on those 'people skills' in my work as a teacher and a colleague, but also when engaging with parents and carers.”
Working with many types of children and families from different socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures and parenting methods means that you have to learn to listen to, engage with and respect all types of carers.
Have a passion for both teaching and learning
One piece of advice from most teachers is to remember to think like a student as well. Collins notes how rewarding it is to help children learn and grow because every day (and year group) is different.
“It’s a job that not only makes me feel as if I’m helping to emotionally, socially and intellectually develop young minds, but it has also satisfied my own intellectual curiosity.”
Price also shares how children thrive when learning from an early childhood teacher or educator. She notes that at university, her research on child psychology showed that children stand "head and shoulders above themselves" when they perform a task after an educator has demonstrated it, proving the power of this heartwarming role.
“For me, it’s a celebration every time I see that a child gets it. Those are the moments that really make your day.”
For information about becoming an early childhood teacher or educator in Victoria, and the financial support available to help support study, visit Early Childhood Teaching: make a difference.