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Monday, 29 September 2014

Welcome to the Infant Program

My office is opposite one of our Infant programs.

This is a tough time of year in that program as 12 new babies have arrived over the last several weeks.

Some of them are happy, adapted easily, eating, sleeping and pooping like champs.

Others are sad and/or mad at this turn of events in their lives and letting us all know just how they feel.

I have been known to walk across the hall and close their door so I can hear myself think at my desk.

But when I close the door 4 educators remain in there holding, rocking, talking to, painting with, feeding, singing, reading books with those small people ..

I am in awe of them most days but especially so in September.

So I asked all our Infant Educators across the SRCC's 3 Infant Programs 5 questions.
1) What is it about those babies you love so much?
2) What surprises you about babies and might surprise others
3) Whats the toughest part of the job?
4) What do you wish others knew about Infant Educators work?
5) Is there anything else you want to share?

Here are their words that show so much about their hearts too, their professionalism and their dedication.

1)What is it about those babies you love so much?

I love everything about babies. Their curiosity that leads to discovering new things, their inquisitiveness that allows them to soak up everything around and most of all their resilience and ability to adapt to new experiences.

They are impressionable.

They grow and change so fast.  It is amazing how we can be with them and share their joy and tears. They are my loyal friends and part of my family. I am so proud that I can be with them daily.

I love how happy babies can make you feel everyday; the feeling you get when you get to have cuddles, or when they are so happy to see you in the morning. Also, the laughter you get to share with babies.

Babies are full of surprises. They make you very tired but also they make you happy. Their smiles bring you joy and energy to live.  The speed and amount of learning everyday always makes me wonder about human’s capacity of learning. They can learn multi-languages, songs, manners and actions that they are exposed to. Babies are amazing!

There is so much but all of us can agree that we love the connections and bonds made with the children.  The children usually begin very unsure and fearful of their surroundings.  When an educator and child make a connection, a bond that allows the children to feel calm, and safe that is one of the things we love so much. We love watching the children reach the simplest yet most complicated tasks such as... holding their own bottle, crawling, standing and walking!   We love to be there supporting and guiding their every step of the way.

2) What surprises you about babies and might surprise others?

Their ability to make connections with new people. Babies are able to connect with others without prejudice.

Their resilience.

They can adjust to the environment and cope with the stress so quickly as long as we can provide enough love and care on a daily basis. Children will adjust well if they feel secure and loved by us, they will build a happy, trusting and positive relationship with us.

What is surprising to me is how babies speak with their bodies. As I observe, I see that they use their whole body to explore and make sense of their environment.   I see a child reaching out with their hands when they need a hug.  I see the expression in their eyes when they are curious about a particular object and their surroundings.

Every moment is valuable learning experience for me. I see them explore and observe their surroundings. Then they seem to recall their memories and do as they remember. For instance, I was singing a Korean song about “Butterfly”( it is called “Nabi” in Korean) to my infant children for a while. At that time, I didn’t think that they will remember or imitate the sound of it. I just explained about the song and after a few days, I heard one child calling “Nabi” as she pointed at her own t-shirt. I looked at her t-shirt and there was a butterfly picture on it. I was very surprised and I shared the story with her parent and the parent seemed very pleased to hear that and told me that they had no clue why their child kept saying “Nabi” as pointing at butterfly until then. So, the child was not only remembering how to call the butterfly in Korean but also what it means. They are full of surprises and they are more capable than we dare think.  

Mostly, their curiosities when they are trying to problem solve. For example, a baby is trying to put a wooden block piece into a hole. I can see her enormous effect on concentrating to complete this task and understand the concept that she must try to get this wooden piece into the hole. 

What might surprise others is that babies have numerous ways of communication.
Some clues that babies give us may go unnoticed, thus, if we use pedagogy of listening can we understand what a baby is trying to communicate?  The pedagogy of listening involves finding meaning and understanding, and really listening to a child’s thinking.

A story that I shared about a little girl with my colleagues that had surprised them:  A little girl was sitting on my lap and she turned to me and put her arms up. I understood this as ‘pick me up.’ Afterwards, she pointed to her stuffed animal and then pointed towards the nap room.  The background of this story is that I have gotten to know this little girl for 3 weeks now. Through listening, and observing I had known she was saying she is tired and its time for nap.  We were so delighted with the way she had communicated with me.

 It still surprises us as educators as well as their own families about how capable they actually are!  Yes, we see them as capable but many times these babies surprise us by going beyond what we could ever imagine.  We often hear and see people under estimate what an infant can or cannot do, we are sometimes guilty of it as well.  For example, we would model putting away dishes and utensils in a bucket, dirty cloths in another bucket, and water cups in another.... not many times after, even the youngest of the infants would try and crawl to put away their cloths.  Many would think the child is just exploring and making a ruckus, but as we watched and waited... the baby was trying to get to the dirty cloths bucket to put their used cloth in.  Once we stop assuming, and begin promoting self-help skills the infants can really surprise us all.

3) What's the toughest part of the job?

We spend a large part of the day with the babies in our care and in turn make special connections and bonds with them. The toughest part of the job is saying goodbye to the babies as they grow up and move on.

Letting go as they grow smart and independent enough to move up.

If our Educator team has different beliefs about and goals for the children.   We have to discuss this and agree how to work as team as consistency is so important for our babies.

The toughest part of the job that I have experienced so far is going through gradual entry. Gradual entry was tough for me because it was also tough for the new babies. They were in an unfamiliar place with strangers and where they had to leave their parents for part of the day.  The questions that came to my mind were:  How can we make him feel more comfortable?  When will he be happy?
How can I build relationship?  With this in mind, relationship building was tricky at first, but I began to see them everyday. The teachers showed care and comfort and this part of the job was not so tough anymore!

I found that working with babies is physically challenging. Because most of babies are not very mobile at some point, you have to carry them around. It has negative impact on teacher’ back and knees.  Also, consistent crying is affecting teacher’s hearing ability which occurs headache. Especially, when you carry the baby close to your ear, that can be harmful for your hearing.  

 It is the gradual entry time of the year, when all new babies and parents are trying to familiarize themselves with the new environment.  It is trying to build trust and relationships with all the new families and children.  We want to give as much one on one time to each family and child, but with so many new families it is sometimes the toughest.

4) What do you wish others knew about Infant Educators work?

That while it seems like all we do is sit around playing with babies all day, we do so much more. We are the individuals that help shape and guide the future's Doctors, Architects, Engineers and Educators. We help build the foundation where all future learning will occur.

Educator's work is NOT childminding. The true Educator takes pride in being able to engage the whole child to facilitate self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-confidence.

I wish others knew the joyful experiences we get to share with babies. The laughter, smiles and watching babies grow up and seeing how they have changed, and how babies make sense of their world.

A lot of people think that teachers at Infant side mostly do “taking care of the babies” rather than “teaching” them.  However, I think that we teach them the most valuable and necessary skills/learning in their lives. Most of skills that they do here at Infant side, require to learn and start when they are young. For example, babies need to learn feeding themselves, crawling and walking, being friendly and gentle with their friends. Also, they learn to imitate other’s facial expressions and words. Without these crucial learning parts, it is very hard for the babies to step up to other level of their lives. We are there to support and celebrate all that moments of their milestones.    

 We wish others would not just see us as 'babysitters' but instead early childhood educators (professionals).  We wish others could see through our lenses for a day, to understand the work that we do.

5) Anything else you want to share?

In order to thrive, children need safe, loving environments where they are encouraged to grow and explore. If we expose them to a world where they have the opportunities to dream and become anything they want, they will be confident to make those dreams a reality.

Children thrive in an environment where educators and parents trust, respect, and esteem each other as partners in the important task of helping children find meaning in the world around them.

Infant Educators work is way more than a babysitter, and our knowledge can help children reach their potential if we really spend time to observe and build a positive relationship with them. Parents are always our partners and exchange any important information. Experienced and professional Educators can make a great impact and differences in children's life.

It is also very important to share all the thoughts and ideas with children’s families because they know their children the best. I think that as much as we communicate together about the child, we can understand them better

Each and everyone of us love the work we do everyday regardless of the challenges we face.  Being a part of the infant program and spending time with these babies is truly valued in our hearts.  When we talk about relationships, in the infant program it is almost all about RELATIONSHIPS!  The parents are leaving their child for long periods at a time for the first time, and vice versa for the child.  The babies are building relationships with new caregivers and environment.  The educators are relying on each other for support.  Trust and relationship is key!  That is something we work on and look forward to everyday.


I am immensely proud of our Infant Educators and the work they do every day.  

You survived September ladies.....keep those relationships building and remember "Nothing without JOY".

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Welcome to Preschool

I pulled up a chair yesterday and over a slice or two of pizza I caught up with our Preschool Educators.

As pioneers of the a new service the Society of Richmond Children's Centres is offering to the community I was keen to hear about their first few days.

We have been in the child care business for over 20 years but this preschool gig is new to us.

One of the Educators, Kulvir, worked for us a while back and has had some preschool experience in the interim and Tianna, the other Educator has been working in one of our 3-5 programs for several years.

They really are two special ladies who are excited to be pioneering this program and it was great to dialogue with them.

The first two weeks have been challenging but they already see things settling down.

They indicated that getting into the "flow" of a 4 hour preschool class (9am-1pm) has stretched them as they are used to longer stretches of time with children.  They also had lots of children for whom English is second and new language and many of the children are very young. Communicating with parents has been hard to due to language barriers.

We dialogued for some time on how we could more authentically build those ever important relationships with children and their families and build the trust with them?  How to find allies in the group of adults to help us bridge the language gap and start the building of a preschool community and culture?  How our physical environment might need to be better reflective of the children and their families?

We chatted about some practical and logistical things and I came away with a list of things that might help them and they left, I think, knowing their work is important, that they have a chance here to build something special and to develop some strategies and tools that might help some of our other Educators across the Society encountering similar concerns.

I was in the room as the preschool ended and it was lovely to see the children happy and content and not wanting to leave....that is always a good sign.....

Stay tuned for more from West Cambie Preschool in the coming months as we learn and grow together.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Starting up

The first few days of a new centre opening are tricky.

We have a new staff team with the benefit of a few days together but nothing can really prepare them for that first day.

When all the new families walk through the door with bedding, extra clothes, lunches..... everyone hesitant about where things go, how things work.....everyone wanting to talk to staff.

Parents linger. Children sense this is a BIG thing.

Some children walk in ready to play and meet new people and settle in fast.

Others much less ready to say goodbye show us their emotions.

It's a busy, full, sometimes trying day for all

Jennifer and I play a supporting role on these first days.

We step into the classroom when it seems another pair of hands would be helpful.
We heat up lunches, clean up messes, set up the nap room.....

So that the teachers can focus on the the important work of relationship building.

Of course we end up connecting with the children and families too but we try to stay on the periphery because we are exiting from here slowly to resume our regular work, attend to our full in boxes and messy desks (that would be me not Jennifer!).  We will be around all of September but less and less each week.

We have faith in the staff, children and families here that they will get through the firsts of Cranberry with grace and good humour...they will weather the inevitable bumps....celebrate the increasing times when joy replaces tears, chatter between children grows and a semblance of what we call "normal" settles over the centre....... this is no small thing ...a transformation worth watching and celebrating....marvelling as this Cranberry community grows into itself.

Jennifer wrote this reflection from her makeshift workplace in the Cranberry office yesterday....

Through the Looking Glass…by Jennifer Chen

Here is my temporary work station at Cranberry…right beside a big window peering into the Infant/Toddler Program.

I have had to hold back from going into the Infant/Toddler Program during this gradual entry period because they need to bond with their educators who see them regularly.  It is important for the children to build these relationships with their educator - to build trust and consistency.  

Yet I find myself wanting to make a connection with them…through the window.  Once these children settle in, I will be in there more often but in the meantime, here is our story…

I see Caelan being curious about the lady who mysteriously stands right by the window.

I see Abigail and Ariel communicating…without words

I see Victoria finding joy in clapping two puzzle pieces together

This is a good place for see and be seen .. to make connections, to observe the ordinary moments unfolding.  This will build a foundation for me to work with these children and their educators in the coming months as we live into our vision of "Changing the world by Honouring Childhood"