Upon my return from a lovely vacation, I learned of a recent upheaval at a local childcare centre over a misguided attempt to 'introduce rough and tumble play' amongst the children who attend the centre. As I understand the situation - from my limited information via news stories and a briefly posted video - a couple of children were filmed by some unknown person (from a small distance) having what appeared to be a physical altercation while one and sometimes two adult carers watched. There is no audio to the video clip I saw, so no indication as to what the adults may have been saying to discourage or (heaven forbid!) encourage the obvious conflict these two small boys were engaged in.
As an Early Childhood Educator, and now the Director of a small centre with staff, I admittedly cringed when I watched the video clip - as an educator, as a parent, AND as an administrator. Yikes! No matter how the investigation into this regrettable lapse of judgment turns out, there will forever be a stain on the record of the centre and its staff in the middle of it all, regardless of all the good quality care and positive experiences they have provided for many years to many families.
However, that doesn't mean that I don't think there is also a lesson in this story for educators and administration... a reminder if you will. We all need to be critical thinkers! As the daytime guardians of children, we have to be very conscientious about how we guide children's play and support their learning, recognizing that all of what happens during the days is included in that learning time. We can't lapse into allowing how we may have played as children if it doesn't fit with current expectations for quality care --and we have to recognize the difference too! It's as though there was a moment of 'I/my kids play like this and we're okay' thinking.
Is it the often loosely structured summer days in childcare that caused a momentary lapse in judgement? Who knows? But what is glaringly obvious here is that the staff clearly forgot that childcare is always under a microscope, and childcare professionals particularly. There is, and should be, a constant awareness of scrutiny - by the families we provide care for, by our supervisors and peers, and by the community at large. This doesn't mean I endorse secret cameras or anything like that, but that we all need to conduct ourselves, all the time, as though someone is observing our interactions with the children we look after. It is a hard job sometimes, and carers get worn out and are not perfect all the time, but we still need to manage our actions and make decisions so we do not negatively impact our charges.
Somewhere around this story, I heard that there was an idea afloat to 'introduce' rough and tumble play, and it was this that made me question things.... why would you need to introduce what is a natural part of play for many children, particularly for little boys (I consider puppies and children to be closely related in the early years)? How would a qualified educator not understand that? Why did none of the other centre staff intervene and stop this obviously inappropriate play from continuing at the time? Why, if this was seriously a considered attempt to make a program change, was it not discussed with the administrator? If it was a centre wide discussion, why did no one else speak up about how 'rough and tumble' play is a naturally occurring play form, and doesn't need to be introduced. Was there a discussion about such play (readily available research abounds)? It seems to me that what may in fact be a part of the issue is under qualified, poorly trained, and maybe under supervised junior staff.
All of this highlights a chronic issue facing the childcare profession overall - a lack of well-trained staff. In order to meet staffing requirements, administrators are often faced with hiring a mix of staff that may include folks who are well-intentioned but not fully qualified. Or, fully qualified but not well-trained or inexperienced. Or, worst of all, fully qualified and experienced, but just 'not good'. Being unable to think critically and deeply about why and how you will implement programming changes - how will this play out and what are the potential pitfalls or risks of such a plan- can be devastating to the families and staff affected, as this weeks scenario has demonstrated. Sometimes, even the administrators of a centre are in the role with little experience but the required education to satisfy licensing requirements!
One day, we will likely hear an official decision on this particular centre's actions. Regardless of that outcome, families and staff have been impacted and the ripples have been felt throughout the field.
Since 1986, I have been working with, and on behalf of young children. As an ECE and a Mom, I have gained some insights and made some mistakes that I am happy to share with others, in hopes that some of what I have learned will be of use to others. Corinne