What Does it Mean to Care?

caring

A parent approached me a couple years ago and explained in an apologetic tone that she was pulling her daughter out our of our accredited campus child care center to put her in a “real school”. Yes, “real school” is what she said. I mustered up all my professionalism, put aside my pride and proceeded to inquire about her decision. We had a good conversation. She explained that although she loved our program for her toddler and appreciated how happy her daughter was learning through play, she wanted her to have a different experience as a preschooler. She chose a neighborhood preschool where there was an academic curriculum to help her prepare for kindergarten. The parent and I talked about all the names of programs we hear in our field—nursery school, preschool, daycare, and child care—and how confusing they can be. We talked about what it means to be ready for kindergarten and about the pressure kids and parents feel. We talked about the difference between academic skills and intellectual growth. The parent did proceed to enroll her daughter in the nursery school but within a couple months she was back with us; and we were happy to have her back.

I was thankful for this dialog, and I have had many similar talks throughout my career. It was interesting to me that the parent viewed our center as providing great care to her child but she did not initially see us as educational even though all of our teachers have degrees in education. Despite the fact that we articulate our goals, post our curriculum, document each child’s progress in portfolios, provide screening, assessment, and parent teacher conferences this parent did not see us as a “real school”. I know that the way early childhood is viewed in our society is complicated. However, I wondered if part the reason we may not be seen as educational is because we do such a good job caring for children. We help children separate from their parents, hold children on our laps when they need to be held, sit on the floor to teach, and turn our classrooms into home-like environments. These things are seen as something other than, often less than, teaching and learning.

The Inseparability of Early Education and Care
It is a misperception that child care and early learning are two different things.

This conversation about the difference between preschool and child-care always leads us to what is at the heart of the issue—the inseparability of early education and care. There is a misperception in our society that child care and early learning are two different things based on the view that child care is custodial and preschool is educational. What we know is that high quality, responsive, intellectually stimulating programs are doing the same thing—simultaneously caring for and educating young children.

Here are some things that can happen when we try to artificially separate early education and care.

  • When child care is viewed as custodial work, the caring acts such as helping children gain confidence in toileting, dressing, and meals are devalued. Child care teachers may not be given the respect, support, or professional development to raise standards or to view themselves as teachers. They may feel disenfranchised and adopt the custodial view of their work; they supervise children, keep them safe and clean, but are not empowered to see each moment as an opportunity for learning and teaching.
  • When preschools are viewed as an extension of the “big school” it results in push-down pressure. In an effort to show that young children are getting ready for kindergarten, the curriculum may include worksheets or seat work that is better suited for older children. Preschool teachers adopt an elementary school teacher view of themselves and feel most comfortable in roles such as reading stories to groups of children or teaching the alphabet. They may not recognize the powerful connection between caring and teaching. Children may be rushed through daily living activities to get to what is perceived as teaching activities such as circle time. Children are screened for enrollment readiness and may be excluded if they are not fully potty-trained.

In Defense of Early Childhood Education

Early childhood teachers have long taken a defensive stance about our role and how we are viewed in society and in education. We learn to prove ourselves as educators. Show me children digging in the sand box and I can articulate all the ways the children are engaged in scientific thinking and symbolic representation, not to mention developing their motor and spatial skills, and practicing language and conversation that will allow them to be confident readers and writers one day.

When I worked as an early interventionist, I was able to link all the IEP (Individual Education Plan) goals to the domains of learning and to the state standards to show how children learn through play. We have needed to make the case that we are not babysitters. I worry, however, that in the intention to shine light on the importance of education for the youngest members of our society; we have pushed aside the care of young children.

We are Not Babysitters

Babysitting is an odd term, it’s true, but I’ve been thinking that by talking about what we are NOT, we have contributed to the view that caring for children is other than educational. I understand the reason for saying, we are not babysitters, but I also recognize that someone who is called a babysitter might just be someone very important in the life of a child. I’ve been thinking that maybe as we have defended our important work we have in some ways contributed to the false dichotomy between early education and care. We don’t want to be associated with babysitters because we are professionals. We have certificates, degrees, and licenses and we want to separate ourselves from the view that anybody can do this work. As Kimberlee Kiehl explains in her piece Rethinking Early Education (2013), “Instead of thinking that what these good parents, good teachers, and good nannies do every day are things that should be shared with all of us . . . we do the reverse and think that anyone can do this work.”

Instead of working to separate ourselves, perhaps we can better support parents and caregivers and everyone who spends their days with young children by acknowledging that being with children in all the average every day moments is important work. We can validate that the things that come naturally while caring for children, such as singing lullabies and bouncing children on our knees, are educational. We can endorse the fact that the responsive care that children need, from feeding to diapering to bathing, is honorable work. We can enter into a true partnership with families and caregivers when our programs embrace caring for children and lift the acts of care to a new level.

What Does Caring Look Like?

Anne is a colleague of mine who taught toddlers for many years. She was one of those people who could create a respectful atmosphere that was palpable. As I watched her work with toddlers, I often wondered, how does she do it? I looked for clues. The effectiveness and the beauty of her teaching were revealed in the way she cared. She listened. She took the time to teach the toddlers to set the table for snack and wash the dishes. Every conversation at the cubbies and on the changing table was an opportunity to connect and engage. In her classroom you got the message that there was no hierarchy of importance between activities such as helping a child put on his coat or teaching a child a new word. Teaching and caring were the same. When Anne was getting ready to retire, she reflected upon her career and what she had created. She told me about her husband who was retired from a successful career as an artist—a sculptor, in fact. She explained, “His art is visible. It’s tangible and it will last and be seen by others for years to come while the art of teaching is just as real, but it is invisible.”

Anne’s comments make me think of the educators of Reggio Emilia and the idea of making learning visible. I’ve wondered, how do we make caring visible? We know that relationships are at the heart of quality early education, but if we go even deeper and ask ourselves how we form those relationships with young children, we see the acts of caring. We see teachers rocking children to sleep, holding hands, feeding children, zipping jackets, wiping noses, and changing diapers. It is through caring that children come to trust us and believe in their own capacity for learning. Do we allow time for caring or do we rush children through tasks that are perceived as custodial? Do we sing, talk with, and listen to children while we care for them? Or do we treat care with drudgery? What are the core competencies of care?

  • Are educators sitting with children at meal time to create family style meals or are they pre-plating meals, hovering over children’s heads and treating meals like a chore?
  • Are teachers seeking eye contact with children, sitting on the floor and speaking in guiding tones or are they calling out instructions from across the room?
  • Are we allowing children to move freely to the bathroom and sink to wash their hands or use the toilet as needed or are we making children stand in lines?
  • Are we creating environments that promote self-care, self-comfort, and self-regulation where children have the time to make real choices and learn to “do it myself”?
  • Do we allow children to experience the honor of care by caring for plants or animals or by caring for one another?
Within a practice of caring we become artful teachers.

Caring is Teaching

I believe that providing excellent care for young children requires us to refine the attitudes, dispositions, and skills that are necessary to be an effective, intentional teacher. To care well, we break tasks into steps and scaffold our support from least to most. We make judgments about what individual children need and seek the balance of providing just the right support to develop the child’s independence. To care for children well we need to practice observing, listening, being present, and following the child’s lead. Within a practice of caring we become artful teachers.

Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are amazing and capable beings but they are also vulnerable. They are at a stage of life when they depend upon our care. Caring and early education cannot be separated. Whether we care for children well, or not so well, children are learning. What are we teaching by the way we care? What does caring look like? How do we talk about its value? What does it mean to care?

References:

Kiehl, Kimberlee. Rethinking Early Education and Why It MattersEducation Week. (2014, May 26). 

Copyright © Exchange Press, Inc. Reprinted with permission from Exchange magazine. All rights reserved. Visit us at www.ChildCareExchange.com or call (800) 221-2864.

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About the Author Carol Murray

Carol Garboden Murray

has been working with children and families for many years as an early interventionist, kindergarten, preschool, toddler teacher and director of programs. She is a credentialed early learning trainer (NYSAEYC) and the director of Abigail Lundquist Botstein Nursery School at Bard College in Annandale on the Hudson, NY.

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  • Lois Ingellis

    I enjoyed this article in CCIE recently. Having it come to my email through Community Playthings is extra special. I can save it, send it to my colleagues, and especially my students in early childhood education courses. Thank you Carol & Rhonda

  • Julie Ramski

    For years I have been saying to teachers and administrators that you cannot separate educating young children from caring for them. Thank you Carol for validating that. Your article will definitely be used as a resource.

  • Eileen Kupersmith

    Bravo, Carol Garboden Murray! This is the best articulated explanation of the vital role that appropriate child care plays in "school readiness". I like the reference to the difference between academic skills and intellectual growth. I am going to share this with my favorite early childhood educators and parents.

  • Ethyl Treatman

    Wonderful article! It was very thoughtfully written, and so right on!!!

  • Lori

    Learning is what takes place as we care for children--the two go hand-in-hand. Our academic obsession really takes away from a child's natural desire to learn.

  • Verlene Williams

    Wonderful! I let my whole staff read this and told them how great they are. Thank you

  • Anzhelika D

    I loved the topic of this article regarding childcare viewed as "babysitting". When I hear from a parent that they transferring their child into preschool, I get offended because I offer the same if not more education, caring, physical development for the children. This article has helped me to be able regard this matter in a professional way. Thank you.

  • Susan

    Preschool-aged children are learning every moment of every day. They learn to trust the adults in their lives when those adults are responsive to their needs, as you say, caring for them. The training that Early Childhood Educators receive enables them to increase the opportunity for learning outside of basic acts of care. Daily experiences can be used to address ideas such as the importance of diversity, seasons, weather, and calendars, recognizing and naming colors and shapes, knowing about the plants and animals around us, and learning to hear starting sounds of words and rhyming words. All of these enhancements distinguish a learning environment (School) from an environment where care givers (babysitters) do not enrich a child's day. This training and associated methods in a quality child care environment make it a preschool, regardless of what you call it.

  • Lybeth

    Susan, What makes you think children do not have exposure to all of those same topics you reference at a Daycare? I am a early childhood educator and also a Daycare provider. I also provide children with exposure to calendars, weather, days of the week, sorting, phonemic awareness or shall I say "enhancements". The majority of my kids leave my home for kindergarten already knowing how to write their name, identify letter sounds and so much more. The article was written exactly because of the down play that people like you give to Daycare workers who most of the time have degrees in early childhood just like a Pre-school teacher. We also receive continual training as mandated by the state. I am regulated by the city and the state. What I can say I feel has separated me from a classroom environment is that I do provide Quality Care in a more nurturing environment. Thanks so much for this article. I will be sharing this!

  • Constance Nostrand

    I have been caring for and guiding young children for over 31 years(at the same job). A lot of early learning comes from your environment and the people caring/guiding you. A "good" teacher will provide opportunities for children to learn and explore the world around them. Academics flow into these explorations and the "good" teacher finds these moments and asks the right questions at the right time, to assist in this learning process. What I find to be the most important thing to help young children with is compassion and consideration for others. The letters, numbers and shapes will all come sooner or later. This one act of thoughtfulness and respect for others is what will save our future. For the youth of our country to be concerned about others, not how they can "beat" them at this or that. It works: my youngsters are the proof.

  • Dalbir Kaur

    I enjoyed this article. Thank you so much. It is TRUE.

  • Debra Cruz

    Bravo! I am glad to hear someone speaking out for us providers. We are more then just babysitters. I will forward this to my staff and my parents. Thank you Carol.

  • Sydney Gurewitz Clemens

    As a long-time teacher I have found a way to leave a visible trail of what I've learned: my three books, the last of them published December 2014, allow others to see what I found out in all those years of mindful teaching. And I was deeply influenced by Reggio Emilia, and report how I used their practices in the US (as I understood them) to inform my work in California. Called Seeing Young Children with New Eyes: What We've Learned from Reggio Emilia about Children and Ourselves, it's co-written with Leslie Gleim, and available from my webpage: www.eceteacher.org I hope you'll ask your local library to acquire it, and give it a try yourselves.

  • Leah Davies

    This is an excellent article. I enjoyed reading it a great deal. Caring for young children is educating them!

  • Carol Garboden Murray

    I am honored to be featured in this blog and I am touched by all the comments. This is a topic I have been thinking about for many years and I am writing more articles about it now under the umbrella title "Cultures of Caring". I have such great respect for all of you who are caring for and teaching our youngest citizens. Thank you for the work you do and thank you for contributing to this conversation. You can find a few more of my articles at carolgarbodenmurray.com. Happy Summer, Carol

  • Tish

    I find your article enlightening. I must admit this dilemma has been banded about since the 1970s when I was in the classroom. It seems the answer still eludes everyone. I must admit you present a solid case for cohesiveness as educators. I feel that there is a great gap between salaries from school districts, federally funded, and for-profit childcare facilities. There is also higher employee turn-over in childcare facilities. I speak from past experience. As a peer coach (city grant funded), I interviewed many childcare teachers. They were in need of a higher income and health benefits. These two factors add teens to their feelings of self worth and self esteem, including on-going professional education.

  • Liz Memel

    Care begins with babies. The film "Seeing Infants With New Eyes" was produced in 1987 by Resources for Infant Educarers®, better known as RIE®, depicting Magda Gerber's "Educaring® Approach." Since then thousands have learned that education and care are inseparable. The newest film, "See How They Play" has been hailed by educators such as Bev Bos who wrote: "My hope is that every person who has made the decision to have a child would have access to this film, “See How They Play.” with their families. And, to watch it again and again! What a world this could be!”

  • Eleanor Mefford

    This was a wonderful and thoughtful article; and I, too, am so happy to have it come from Community Playthings. I was an early childhood educator and administrator for thirty-odd years; and it is disheartening that this debate still goes on. Babies and toddlers, as well as preschoolers and older children, need a foundation of trust; respect; reciprocal, meaningful communication in order for them to engage as partners in learning with adults. This has been sadly lost in too many schools and settings, whatever the age. I'm currently working as a reading tutor in a public school in the inner city and I cringe at the language that has crept into teaching and learning. It seems that too many have forgotten the underlying principles of respect and understanding for how children as individuals grow and learn--and how critical it is for teachers to engage as partners and friends, as well as educators. You simply can't have one without the other. And our children--particularly those in inner city schools where neglect, poverty, and a hundred other ills--are going unaddressed. Please keep this debate going; it needs to be said again and again that children need solid, good relationships, whatever the age, in order to learn and thrive.

  • Lenae Madonna

    Carol, Divinely said, by someone who has always "cared." I just recently thought about an article that you gave me many years ago about washing dishes, and finding joy in the moment instead of rushing to do the next thing. This is how we must be with children too! Their daily rituals matter. It was also so wonderful to read about Anne, who was also my mentor. This article should be seen by every early childhood educator around the world. I am extremely proud of you!

  • Missy Brown

    I love this article so much! If you read the book by "Really Seeing Children" by Deb Curtis you will see so many examples of how caring is learning.

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View Comments 20
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Comments (20)

Leave a Comment
  • Lois Ingellis

    I enjoyed this article in CCIE recently. Having it come to my email through Community Playthings is extra special. I can save it, send it to my colleagues, and especially my students in early childhood education courses. Thank you Carol & Rhonda

  • Julie Ramski

    For years I have been saying to teachers and administrators that you cannot separate educating young children from caring for them. Thank you Carol for validating that. Your article will definitely be used as a resource.

  • Eileen Kupersmith

    Bravo, Carol Garboden Murray! This is the best articulated explanation of the vital role that appropriate child care plays in "school readiness". I like the reference to the difference between academic skills and intellectual growth. I am going to share this with my favorite early childhood educators and parents.

  • Ethyl Treatman

    Wonderful article! It was very thoughtfully written, and so right on!!!

  • Lori

    Learning is what takes place as we care for children--the two go hand-in-hand. Our academic obsession really takes away from a child's natural desire to learn.

  • Verlene Williams

    Wonderful! I let my whole staff read this and told them how great they are. Thank you

  • Anzhelika D

    I loved the topic of this article regarding childcare viewed as "babysitting". When I hear from a parent that they transferring their child into preschool, I get offended because I offer the same if not more education, caring, physical development for the children. This article has helped me to be able regard this matter in a professional way. Thank you.

  • Susan

    Preschool-aged children are learning every moment of every day. They learn to trust the adults in their lives when those adults are responsive to their needs, as you say, caring for them. The training that Early Childhood Educators receive enables them to increase the opportunity for learning outside of basic acts of care. Daily experiences can be used to address ideas such as the importance of diversity, seasons, weather, and calendars, recognizing and naming colors and shapes, knowing about the plants and animals around us, and learning to hear starting sounds of words and rhyming words. All of these enhancements distinguish a learning environment (School) from an environment where care givers (babysitters) do not enrich a child's day. This training and associated methods in a quality child care environment make it a preschool, regardless of what you call it.

  • Lybeth

    Susan, What makes you think children do not have exposure to all of those same topics you reference at a Daycare? I am a early childhood educator and also a Daycare provider. I also provide children with exposure to calendars, weather, days of the week, sorting, phonemic awareness or shall I say "enhancements". The majority of my kids leave my home for kindergarten already knowing how to write their name, identify letter sounds and so much more. The article was written exactly because of the down play that people like you give to Daycare workers who most of the time have degrees in early childhood just like a Pre-school teacher. We also receive continual training as mandated by the state. I am regulated by the city and the state. What I can say I feel has separated me from a classroom environment is that I do provide Quality Care in a more nurturing environment. Thanks so much for this article. I will be sharing this!

  • Constance Nostrand

    I have been caring for and guiding young children for over 31 years(at the same job). A lot of early learning comes from your environment and the people caring/guiding you. A "good" teacher will provide opportunities for children to learn and explore the world around them. Academics flow into these explorations and the "good" teacher finds these moments and asks the right questions at the right time, to assist in this learning process. What I find to be the most important thing to help young children with is compassion and consideration for others. The letters, numbers and shapes will all come sooner or later. This one act of thoughtfulness and respect for others is what will save our future. For the youth of our country to be concerned about others, not how they can "beat" them at this or that. It works: my youngsters are the proof.

  • Dalbir Kaur

    I enjoyed this article. Thank you so much. It is TRUE.

  • Debra Cruz

    Bravo! I am glad to hear someone speaking out for us providers. We are more then just babysitters. I will forward this to my staff and my parents. Thank you Carol.

  • Sydney Gurewitz Clemens

    As a long-time teacher I have found a way to leave a visible trail of what I've learned: my three books, the last of them published December 2014, allow others to see what I found out in all those years of mindful teaching. And I was deeply influenced by Reggio Emilia, and report how I used their practices in the US (as I understood them) to inform my work in California. Called Seeing Young Children with New Eyes: What We've Learned from Reggio Emilia about Children and Ourselves, it's co-written with Leslie Gleim, and available from my webpage: www.eceteacher.org I hope you'll ask your local library to acquire it, and give it a try yourselves.

  • Leah Davies

    This is an excellent article. I enjoyed reading it a great deal. Caring for young children is educating them!

  • Carol Garboden Murray

    I am honored to be featured in this blog and I am touched by all the comments. This is a topic I have been thinking about for many years and I am writing more articles about it now under the umbrella title "Cultures of Caring". I have such great respect for all of you who are caring for and teaching our youngest citizens. Thank you for the work you do and thank you for contributing to this conversation. You can find a few more of my articles at carolgarbodenmurray.com. Happy Summer, Carol

  • Tish

    I find your article enlightening. I must admit this dilemma has been banded about since the 1970s when I was in the classroom. It seems the answer still eludes everyone. I must admit you present a solid case for cohesiveness as educators. I feel that there is a great gap between salaries from school districts, federally funded, and for-profit childcare facilities. There is also higher employee turn-over in childcare facilities. I speak from past experience. As a peer coach (city grant funded), I interviewed many childcare teachers. They were in need of a higher income and health benefits. These two factors add teens to their feelings of self worth and self esteem, including on-going professional education.

  • Liz Memel

    Care begins with babies. The film "Seeing Infants With New Eyes" was produced in 1987 by Resources for Infant Educarers®, better known as RIE®, depicting Magda Gerber's "Educaring® Approach." Since then thousands have learned that education and care are inseparable. The newest film, "See How They Play" has been hailed by educators such as Bev Bos who wrote: "My hope is that every person who has made the decision to have a child would have access to this film, “See How They Play.” with their families. And, to watch it again and again! What a world this could be!”

  • Eleanor Mefford

    This was a wonderful and thoughtful article; and I, too, am so happy to have it come from Community Playthings. I was an early childhood educator and administrator for thirty-odd years; and it is disheartening that this debate still goes on. Babies and toddlers, as well as preschoolers and older children, need a foundation of trust; respect; reciprocal, meaningful communication in order for them to engage as partners in learning with adults. This has been sadly lost in too many schools and settings, whatever the age. I'm currently working as a reading tutor in a public school in the inner city and I cringe at the language that has crept into teaching and learning. It seems that too many have forgotten the underlying principles of respect and understanding for how children as individuals grow and learn--and how critical it is for teachers to engage as partners and friends, as well as educators. You simply can't have one without the other. And our children--particularly those in inner city schools where neglect, poverty, and a hundred other ills--are going unaddressed. Please keep this debate going; it needs to be said again and again that children need solid, good relationships, whatever the age, in order to learn and thrive.

  • Lenae Madonna

    Carol, Divinely said, by someone who has always "cared." I just recently thought about an article that you gave me many years ago about washing dishes, and finding joy in the moment instead of rushing to do the next thing. This is how we must be with children too! Their daily rituals matter. It was also so wonderful to read about Anne, who was also my mentor. This article should be seen by every early childhood educator around the world. I am extremely proud of you!

  • Missy Brown

    I love this article so much! If you read the book by "Really Seeing Children" by Deb Curtis you will see so many examples of how caring is learning.

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