By Christina Goodwin
and the Pine Forest Teaching Community
Yesterday, the early childhood educators of Pine Forest Children’s Center sent a special newsletter to our families. With all the love and courage in our hearts, we asked them to support us in what we call our work (early childhood education) and what we call ourselves (early childhood educator) and to start using that language.
I am so proud of our teachers, who have attended every Advancing as a Profession session, for leaning in to discussions, working together to craft the essay, and then being brave enough to put it out into the world. It has been well received so far by families!
As an early childhood educator and program director, and as a member of the Task Force to advance early childhood education as a profession, I’ve been working toward professional language, respect, and recognition for a long time. This week, though, we really went on the record about it — the same day our newsletter went out, I was quoted in the Burlington Free Press (‘We’re not babysitters: Vermont early childhood educators seek professional status) along with VTAEYC executive director Janet McLaughlin and my Task Force colleague and family program ECE Laura Butler about why advancing ECE as a profession is so necessary.
I’m excited to share our Pine Forest Children’s Center newsletter with you, co-written by our entire teaching community. And I encourage my ECE colleagues around the state to think about how we can lead these conversations in our communities, claiming our identity with love and courage.
Our teaching community has agreed that in 2022 we will work to advocate for the field of early childhood education. We feel that the first step in this process is to define who we are, what we do, and why we do it. This begins with redefining how we refer to the work that happens at Pine Forest Children’s Center. We’d like to pivot in the language that we use to refer to our programming, from “daycare”, to the more accurate and empowering term “school”.
Historically, the work we do is referred to as daycare, which is defined as “ daytime care for the needs of people who cannot be fully independent, such as children or elderly people.” The word ‘daycare’ can mean many things, from your 14 year-old neighbor babysitting your child, to grandma and grandpa taking the children for a weekend, or having a nanny.
Early Childhood Education, on the other hand, consists of activities and/or experiences that are intended to effect developmental changes in children prior to their entry into elementary school. While care is certainly involved, there are distinct roles and responsibilities that define early childhood education. The term “daycare” undervalues our hard-working, professionally skilled, and knowledgeable teachers.
While some individuals may choose to define us as daycare providers, this woefully undermines the early childhood education field in Vermont. Early childhood educators statewide have strict regulations, guidelines and educational requirements in order to ensure that we are well prepared for the work we do every day with children. At Pine Forest Children’s Center, we strive to push ourselves above and beyond those guidelines, working as a teaching community to provide children with opportunities and experiences that will scaffold their learning, growth, and development. As such, we are making the move to change the vernacular around how we are referred to.
Here’s where you come in, as an integral part of our school community. Over the coming weeks you will start to notice us altering the language we use to refer to our school community. Please join us; we’ll be more successful if we all work together at this!
First, let’s refer to our teaching community as a school.
Why? Children are learning here every day, through diverse learning opportunities provided by well prepared early childhood educators. Our work does differ from the work happening in K-12 settings, but it is not less important. In fact, our work is laying the foundation for brain development and neuroplasticity. Through play children engage and interact with the world around them, which prepares them to be global citizens.
“Daycare” demeans my career that I feel so passionately about. It makes me feel like I am regarded as a babysitter, and that I am not seen as a teacher. It takes away from the effort I put into two years of a Master’s degree and the knowledge I have that it takes to be an early educator.”
Second, classroom teachers can be referred to as early childhood educators.
We have specific requirements for the roles we fill at PFCC, for the contributions we make in our classrooms, and the responsibilities we hold in ensuring children have the right opportunities for growth and development. Our field is defining who we are and therefore we are asking you all to join the movement.
“When people use the term daycare it undermines the work that early childhood educators are doing and the work that people in the field are trying to elevate. Daycare for me equates to babysitting and completely ignores all of the education, professional development, and training I have completed, so when people say it to my face it stings.”
Third, our field of work can be referred to as early childhood education.
We are working to illustrate how children’s individual and shared experiences at PFCC lead to learning as we help people outside our field understand that play is learning. You will see this in our social media posts, our newsletters and more. Our hope is that this effort will show all the amazing learning and skills that happen throughout each opportunity at PFCC.
Thank you for your partnership. Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions. Changing to a more professionalized language will help ensure that our teaching staff feel valued and empowered, and that our center is recognized for the skills-based work we do with kids every day!
Christina Goodwin is Executive Director of Pine Forest Children’s Center in Burlington, President Elect of VTAEYC, and a member of the Task Force for Advancing Early Childhood Education as a Profession in Vermont.
Pine Forest Children’s Center, located in Burlington’s South End, is a mission driven non-profit organization operating for 34 years and successfully providing high quality early childhood education to 70 children and their families per year.