Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

DaycareDebt: A child-care worker's perspective

I never intended to work in child care, I just sort of fell into it.
A child-care worker is not a babysitter, says the author. (CBC)

The author is a child-care worker in St. John's

I never intended to work in child care, I just sort of fell into it. I'd just finished a contract job and was looking for work. While checking out the job bank, I came across an ad for a child-care centre and thought, "Hey, I can do that." This was long before you were required to have qualifications, (which I subsequently acquired). All opinions expressed here reflect my experience with private child care.

First and foremost, I have to tell you that we are not babysitters. An early childhood educator spends several years studying child development. I have met many early childhood educators with advanced degrees who chose to work with children. We are often the first ones who recognize developmental delays in children. We are the first step that will help a child acquire the help they need when they do, in fact, begin school.

An early childhood educator believes that children learn through play. Games, activities, stories are all centred around the interests of the child. I once had a parent leave my centre for another because that centre taught his friend's four-year-old to play the violin. My question was, "Did the child WANT to learn the violin?" There is no teaching per se. We help the child learn through their play. We assist in their development, helping them to get to the next step. We work with the children and their families.

There is a fine line between the parents who believe that we do nothing more than wipe noses all day, and those who can't understand why their three-year-old is not bringing home worksheets. Every year, parents will show up with a long list of things that their kindergarten teacher has told them that their child must know before school starts — and once again we have to explain that the child probably has learned all of these things and if not, this is what kindergarten is for. Children will spend years behind a desk. In child care, we teach them through experience.

An early childhood educator will love your child, take care of your child, nurture your child, pay close attention to his growth and development. We are the ones who soothe your child when you leave, help them potty train or dress themselves, take care of them when they get sick, and get paid about half of what a teacher makes. They say we do it for the input, not the income. While that is true, it's hard to wrap your brain around the fact that a starting salary of an early childhood educator is comparable to those who work in fast food. Owners and operators will raise rates with the excuse that the extra $5 a day is going to salaries, but we're lucky if we see 25 cents an hour of that.

The government has attempted to lower the burden by granting each qualified early childhood educator an income supplement of $6,660 a year — paid in quarterly instalments. If we're lucky, we send in the paperwork and are blessed if we receive the money before the next instalment is due. The government is promising more child-care spaces for less money, but how do we appeal to students to study early childhood education when they spend several years obtaining their diploma (Newfoundland does not currently offer a degree in early childhood education), wracking up student debt, only to tell them that we're only going to pay them about the same as a cashier at Walmart.

In child care there is never enough money, enough staff, or enough time. There are days that an early childhood educator is unsure if they're getting a lunch that day. Breaks? Forget about it. We're expected to use our free time to research new and interesting activities, draw and sew flannel stories, plan for days and weeks ahead. We are expected to observe the children and write down those observations on our own time.

And yet we do it, because for all the flaws and faults in child care, we love what we do. We love the children and their families. We love every rainbow picture we get. We go home with paint on our clothes and food colouring on our hands. All of this means little because of the love of the children. It's hard to feel bad about yourself when you have a group of children who adore you. The feeling is mutual.

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