so much more than changing nappies
Beth scored her job as (with ten being the most fantastic job imaginable).
Beth works in the toddler room of a childcare centre in Perth. We find her in a sandbox made out of an old boat, with three toddlers playing at her feet. Some sand is being tipped over heads (with much amusement to the little ones), but the issue is resolved lovingly and swiftly. Beth deals with the 'sand-on-heads' incident and continues the conversation exactly where she had left it - making it clear to us how much of her job involves multi-tasking. We are impressed.
Beth loves her job and would not change it for any other job in the world. Her fascination and passion in seeing toddlers grow, and developing their skills, is evident from the loving way she describes her role. "It is about seeing all the changes that happen and the development and knowing that you have helped the (kids) to learn these new things.”
Beth recognises her work as "work" and is clear about the physical and psychological exertion it requires. “It is physically and emotionally exhausting. We are all human too and you have your trials and tribulations in your home life, but your problems stay at the door.”
She explains that the work they do is only possible with a supportive team, one with team members that complement each other. To her, the key is to have a team with colleagues that are open, communicate well, and helpful. The work can become overwhelming at times and that the best support is a colleague who looks at you and recognises that it is getting too much for you in this moment, makes you aware of it, and helps you find a way out of it. Humour helps a lot as well.
Beth also thinks that the surroundings and the centre in itself (which is physically very beautiful), and the positive way in which the centre is managed, makes her job one of the best she can think of.
But Beth experiences a lack of recognition from others for her job. She reflects about the ways in which some others see her work – "it is not all bouncing babies up and down.. it is a lot more". She describes the conversations she often has with men in particular, and even other people who work in the education sector, who are convinced that she and her colleagues "just change nappies".
“A lot of what we do is so much more. It is about child development, psychology, a lot of reporting... And of course, we change nappies, because that is what children at that age need. But there is so much more to what we do. But our work has that stigma of babysitting.”
When we ask Beth what the one thing is that she would like to change about her job, she has to think a little bit but then comes straight out to say:
“Oh, I know one thing I would like to change! If the pay was better, this job would be a ten out of ten. I am not a money-driven person, but when you look at the responsibilities that we have on a day-to-day basis – I sometimes scare myself, thinking about what it means to look after someone else’s children.... We are given this wonderful responsibility and we love it.... but we are not paid much.”
We agree with Beth: this job is such an important one, it should be more highly rewarded than it is.
a little more...
Many tasks that we do are not often recognised as "work" – often because these activities are regularly carried out without any recognition or pay (just think of your last trip to the supermarket, or your go with a vaccuum cleaner – sure did seem like work, right?).
Many of these activities that are devalued in this way are traditionally carried out by women. Despite changes towards more equality, and more shared duties and responsibilities between men and women, there is still a tendency to not recognise female-dominated tasks as not being "real work".
The logic goes, if you are not getting paid for it, it cannot be worth much.
Looking after children,
that’ s not actually work, right?
One of the key challenges Beth recognises is the need to respond effectively when things change rapidly, that is, to be adaptive. Beth notes:
“You may have something planned, an activity, or a project with the children, but then something happens to a child, or a team member is sick and it all changes the dynamics of the room. So it is constantly changing and you need to adapt and be flexible.”
Behind the Scenes
by Laura Fruhen
We headed out to a day care centre to learn more about the experiences of staff who look after children and how they perceive their work, as well as others’ views onto what they do. At the centre, staff look after children ranging from ages of as little as six weeks to 6 years.
The centre is located in beautiful and creative surroundings. It gives of a relaxed atmosphere, and we find it hard to believe that there are 100-120 children in one place: It seems lovingly calm and relaxed. You can tell the space was created with children in mind and with a close view towards nature, as the outdoor landscapes are crafted from natural materials.
The rooms and the outdoor spaces convey are a world made for children, which will stimulate them to grow and to actively explore their environment. Most notably though, we are greeted by a pig, ducks and chickens as we enter!