Sunday, July 10, 2016

Educators: Protectors of children's space

In my job I make babies cry. 

I certainly don't mean to.  I visit different centres, and sometimes this means entering the spaces of infants and young toddlers.  When I walk into a nursery, I sense a shift in the atmosphere. There is a stranger in the room.  A 5 ft 11" giant.  At the very least, my presence interrupts play and children stop what they are doing.  Sometimes they tense and go still, like Meerkats on high alert.  At the very worst, they cry.   

Imagine for a moment you are in the sanctuary of your own home, and a couple of strangers walked in and wandered around, and then left.  Imagine this happened again, and again. How would you feel?  What would this do to your stress levels?  To your feelings of safety? Could you feel ownership over a space that clearly wasn't your own?  Is this what it feels like for our youngest children?

Only about Children Cremorne

I pondered this as I sat quietly, observing last week in a nursery room, soaking in the atmosphere.  It was lovely.  The physical environment was uncluttered, and visually calming, educators sitting on the floor, children on laps or close by.  Calm and unhurried.  Nothing more important to be doing than to be together and get to know each other.  It was clear that supporting these little people, some who were very new to the centre, to slowly build that sense of trust in their surroundings and in their relationships was the priority.

One child braved leaving the safety of her primary caregiver's lap to explore the climbing equipment set up in the room.  What a big moment!  Suddenly the door opened - a family had arrived to collect their son.  She froze, started to cry, and hurried over to the comforting lap.  Wide eyes watching, more tears as they leave.
Only about Children Cammeray
Each door opening heightens the unease of the children.  Tears, seeking comfort.  Doors opening, new people entering and leaving, memories of their mum or dad doing the same thing, feelings of separation re-emerging, mixed with discomfort.  

There is nothing more important than creating a sense of security and safety for our children in early childhood settings.  Children separating from their families for the first time are experiencing not just anxiety, but stress in a totally new world, with giants they don't know comforting, feeding and changing them, and putting them to sleep. Strangers performing intimate caregiving tasks in unfamiliar and unpredictable surroundings.

How often do we allow 'giants' to intrude into a space we want children to feel is their own?What impact does the foot traffic throughout the day, or our own voices and movements have on their levels of stress?  How often do we unintentionally add to what is already a stressful environment with our voices, our movements or our desire to constantly rearrange the room and resources?

Only about Children Turramurra

Becoming a protector or guardian of a child's space, and reflecting on our own actions through a lens of respect for the children as individuals goes a long way toward creating an emotionally safe and secure environment where children can build trusting relationships with the people in it.       
As Pennie Brownlee says:

"We will stay alert and stand up to protect the children in our care from harm. Like the Meerkats we will oversee our environments - and the influences in it - with vigilance. When we get it right we might even hear the soft ‘peep peeping’ of contented babies, talking among each other, signalling that all is well."


  1. I teach in primary school and I think we're facing the same problem :')

  2. Love the welcome to nursery sign. So true!