Throughout my career, I have worked with babies. I fully understand the challenging nature of meeting the diverse and individual needs of babies. It is not an easy job. It is physically and mentally demanding. Too often, we do not discuss the complexities of the role. Every day wasn’t perfect; we can’t strive for perfection as educators. We must accept that the closest thing to perfection is in the moment – being present. We must strive to meet the rights of infants and their families through respectful interactions, partnerships, and reflective practice. The RTE Investigates programme that aired last week was very difficult to watch. I felt many emotions; anger, pain, frustration, sadness, among others with many thoughts churning in my mind since. We must reflect and talk, we must ask difficult questions, and, where needed, we must make immediate changes.
A quality educator and child relationship ‘…is one based on mutual trust and respect for each individual. It is demonstrated by caring and interacting with the child in a way that communicates, “I want to know and understand who you are, and I’m prepared to help you understand and know who I am.’ – Polly Elam
In quality early learning and care environments, the role of the educator is to provide a secure and predictable environment. The relationship between child and adult is one of mutual connectedness, and it is about respect and quality experiences. Research shows us that interactions between a child and caregiver dramatically impacts on the development of the brain – and is intrinsically linked to physical, emotional, and mental health. Therefore, the role of the educator is one of enormous responsibility. We need to build secure attachments with sincerity and openness to the diverse needs of each child in our care. When we are tuned in to children, when we connect with their thoughts, needs, and feelings, we facilitate a strong sense of trust and security. It requires positive interactions, during play, caregiving moments, and daily exchanges.
Is it always possible to understand what babies need or want? No, of course not. Do you always know what you want? But we can be perceptive; we can observe and assess what is going on in that moment for that infant. We can reflect – what might have happened previously to impact on the present. What is happening in the environment, what do we know about this child, then we can respond. We can work enthusiastically to communicate healthy messages to children. Through our interactions, we tell them; we hear you; we value you, I respect you, I love you.
How do we see babies? Do we see them as whole human beings? Do we trust them? Because how we see babies impacts on how we communicate and interact with them, we must approach our role with thoughtfulness and an active attitude.
What do infants need in learning and care environments?
Babies need to be respected. This delicate stage of childhood needs full recognition as a vulnerable and critical stage. All babies need to be secure, safe, nurtured, held, and loved.
How does this work on a day-to-day basis?
It works through a sensitivity to the unique and shared needs of children and adults. It involves allowing a level of flexibility throughout the day, that is led by the needs of the child. When we develop a routine based on the individual needs of children, we create an approach that happens naturally. When we meet children’s individual needs, the shared group becomes synchronised. We listen and help children to listen to their bodies and what their bodies need.
What do children need?
The Child –
We recognise the child as competent and confident; daily caregiving routines are individual. Children are free and exploring within a safe yet challenging environment. The routine is predictable and consistent; we don’t give children constant attention; it is needs-based –nurturing, loving, and kind. Children are free to explore within a circle of security and return to a safe person.
What do you need?
The Educator –
You get to be supported and have a leader that helps you to thrive in your role. You are valued; you must be given the environment and resources to support the learning and care of children each day. You are warm and responsive, engaging in meaningful preparation and observation. You must be comfortable in slowing down; attentive and explain to children what is happening. You facilitate uninterrupted play where children can explore, learn, and develop; this is with secure and respectful relationships. You have time to nourish your body, mind, and spirit. You have strong values that help children flourish, and you will not compromise on your values. You know you have rights, and you safeguard the rights of children in your care.
We must continue to work together to be the best representation of our profession, for children, for families and ourselves. The responsibility falls on all of us who understand that providing excellent quality learning and care is a necessity for young children. Anything less is just not good enough.
Milica Atanackovic is a Research & Professional Learning Manager with Early Childhood Ireland. Her background in the sector of Early Years is rooted within a passionate interest in Creative Arts and Child Participation. Milica originally studied Design Communication before moving into Early Childhood Care and Education in Australia. Considering training and mentoring as a key element of quality in the Early Learning & Care, Milica has worked as an educator, service manager and trainer. She also combines experience from a range of creative disciplines to her work.