Stealing time from children

Time is one of the themes of this, my sabbatical year. This is the year for thinking and discussing and moving conversations forward – and into the places where those conversations need to be had.

This co-theme of time is a prominent player in the field of curriculum and learning in early childhood education and care. In an era of the much-documented staffing crisis (‘Google it mate’) ‘I don’t have time’ is one of the most common things heard from Educators struggling to keep up with professional requirements. Struggling, often falling behind, and then falling under the burden of unfulfilled work needs.

A starting point

The fundamental tenant of our profession is the Australian Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). It begins by telling us that Childhood is a time to be, to seek and make meaning of the world. The EYLF then exhorts us to support engagement by allowing time for meaningful interactions.

Staff, looking at working in a Centre will ask about strategies the Centre uses to support the staff to child ratio, and if there are ancillary supports for Educators such as professional cleaners (instead of Educators doing it while the children are there)

Parents who are touring a potential centre for their child, will ask in a voice filled with hope, using a hundred different ways of asking – ‘Do you have time to be with my child when my child needs you?’


Time to actually be with the children – time to support engagement by allowing time for meaningful interactions.

The use of the EYLF is regulated, and so reflecting on the thousands of pages of regulatory and curriculum requirements and guidance that form the framework of the Educator profession, I looked for an example of how time was being done in real life, in the real world setting of an early childhood education and care centre.

I walked into a staff room in an outer metropolitan early childhood education and care centre and struck up a conversation with an Educator on how she did this. How she supported engagement by allowing time for meaningful interactions. Her answer was wrapped in a look of disbelief.

“Take that question apart Doreen. You are asking us about how we:

  1. Understand the true meaning of support
  2. Have the skills and understanding and resourcing and environment to engage
  3. If we are in a workplace power dynamic to allow anything
  4. If we have any control over the understanding of and use of time
  5. That we have each child so well known to us that we truly understand their context and well enough to understand what is meaningful for them
  6. That we know the dynamics of what a quality interaction with a child is [and not what she later described as a ‘drive-by soothing’ in the rush to get to the next task]”.

She went on “Doreen, today, like yesterday, I got no morning tea, I will cut my lunchtime in half, I am driven mad by having to direct not one, but two agency (relief) staff all day, and I have a sick certificate in my bag that I didn’t hand in today because I knew what would happen here if I did stay at home. And I was just saying that today is a good day”

If that conversation doesn’t linger with you, it should.

The research

A paper from Tamara Cumming [et al] haunts me.

Investigating multi-tasking and task rotation as aspects of complexity of early childhood educators’ work Tamara Cumminga*, S. Richardsona, M. Gibsonb, K. Crispb, L. Harrisona, F. Pressd and S. Wonga.

The team behind the paper digs into the under researched area of how the actual work is going on inside early childhood education and care centres. They found multi tasking, and environments with multiple task changes every hour, all with the children at the centre and Educators working flat out to do it all. I could read of overlapping priorites, complex decisions made on the run and of the high risk of stress.

The time-intensive, task, priority, and intentionality juggling, ‘gear changing’ work that is early childhood education and care in a team environment requires a wraparound support of seamless leadership, teamwork, well resourced environments, and well resourced practices.

Responsive and real-world resourcing is critical to the flow of the Educator and child day – and the flow of the day is critical to the sustained stress levels of Educators and as they all admit – their stress levels build and that impacts on the children.

If we don’t have all of the pieces in place to adequately resource early childhood education and care well, then we must identify the deficits and repair the damage, because let us not kid ourselves, if we fail to fix this, we are stealing time from children.

The Educator voice

The Educator in the staffroom talked and listened and asked questions, and then, as she was getting up to wash her cup and go back to her room she said “And when we get it all set up well, and when we get it running as it should be, and when we don’t compromise, the children get a world that is extraordinary, and that is why I am here.”

I watched her going out the staffroom door and thought – ‘and how can we do that and safeguard it’?

“I’m sorry, but I am busy right now”

#educator #time #educatorday #educatorstress #childstress

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