Being an Early Childhood Educator: Bringing Theory and Practice Together

Being an Early Childhood Educator: Bringing Theory and Practice Together

by Felicity McArdie, Megan Gibson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781925267723
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

FELICITY MCARDLE teaches undergraduate and postgraduate education students at Queensland University of Technology and Charles Sturt University. She publishes nationally and internationally, and is co-author of The Trouble with Play. She has led the design and implementation of programs of study for pre-service teachers, and regularly conducts professional learning programs for in- service teachers.

MEGAN GIBSON is a lecturer in the School of Early Childhood, QUT. Her key areas of interest for research and teaching include teacher professionalism, leadership and management, and policy and sustainability. She currently works with pre-service teachers and leads professional learning programs with practicing educators in the early childhood field.

LYN ZOLLO is a lecturer in early childhood education at QUT. She has extensive experience teaching in a diverse range of early childhood settings both in Australia and internationally. Her particular interest with pre-service teachers is preparing them to create and enable quality learning and teaching in the early years.

Read an Excerpt

Being an Early Childhood Educator

Bringing Theory and Practice Together

By Felicity McArdle, Megan Gibson, Lyn Zollo

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2015 Felicity McArdle, Megan Gibson and Lyn Zollo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-925267-72-3


Becoming, being, belonging: So you want to be an early childhood teacher?

In this chapter you will find:

• 'big picture' mapping of your program of study

• brief descriptions of the various types of settings and services in the field of early childhood care and education

• some histories of how the early years have come to be defined

• worldviews and standpoints

• information about starting your portfolio.

Research and experience both tell us that a teacher can make a difference. This book does not contain 'all you need to know to become a good teacher', nor does it reduce the task down to a 'Teaching for Dummies' instruction book. Instead, it will be a companion to all the other learning you do about teaching.

Look at Figure 1.1, and consider the 'big picture' of what it takes to be a good teacher. According to theories of teacher preparation, teachers need to know and be able to do a number of things.

As you make your way through your teacher preparation program, whether you are enrolled in a one-, two-, three- or four-year program, this book can act as a map, guiding you towards the goal of graduation and transition to a teaching career. Like any good travel guide, this book offers choices in routes, with a number of pathways weaving their way through to the destination ... and beyond. We suggest that at the beginning of your course, you study the 'map' in Figure 1.1, work out where you are going and what you need in order to get there, then chart your progress as you make your way through the many roads, side tracks, and loops and turns. Find out what you need to know, and discover how you can acquire the skills, knowledge and attributes you need. Keep records of your milestones so you can show what you can do. You will need an impressive portfolio of your achievements when you eventually graduate and take the next step: seeking employment.

Taking it further

Place a large box within your study space. Every time you experience success as a teacher, collect an artefact and keep a collection in the box — take a photo, make a copy of a child's work with their permission, keep a copy of positive feedback from your supervising teacher. If you prefer, do this electronically, and keep all the material in a file on your desktop.

A common view of teacher preparation programs is that students learn 'theory' at university, then spend some intensive time in classrooms or other educational settings 'practising' their skills. In more recent times, teacher preparation programs have become more complex, with opportunities for 'practice' beyond the so-called 'prac' periods, and building partnerships through which universities and schools and centres work together with shared goals of preparing quality professionals for the field. Becoming a teacher is not a simple question of 'balance' between theory and practice. Many students say they want more 'prac' in their programs, but an apprenticeship model alone is not the answer.

From a reading of the map in Figure 1.1, it is possible to see that there is both an art and a craft to teaching. The craft requires teachers to develop a 'toolbox' of 'never-fail' strategies that help manage behaviour, plan and stage learning, assess and evaluate. When on prac, additions to the 'toolkit' are specific to the prac situation — for example, managing behaviour when you are a visiting 'practising' teacher is a different proposition from managing behaviour when you have an established relationship over time with the children in your care. The art of teaching is knowing when and what to do, based on a depth of knowledge of theories, reading situations, contexts and people, making informed decisions and 'bringing it all together' in a way that supports success for all children. This is complex, difficult, demanding and pleasurable, rewarding and exciting!

Becoming an early childhood teacher

In Australia, the early childhood years are taken to span a child's life from birth to 8 years. This means that early childhood education and care (ECEC) encompasses contexts prior to school and the early years of primary school. Within this age range, a number of different ECEC contexts offer programs and services for children and families. While the terminology used for these contexts varies, there are some common shared understandings, both within Australia and internationally. Some of the different contexts that operate within ECEC are outlined in Table 1.1, and key elements of the programs and the operational features are listed. While not all contexts are included, this table provides a good overview of programs and services. These contexts are clustered as prior-to-school contexts (up to approximately 5 years of age) and school contexts (the lower years of primary school, encompassing up to 8 years of age, or Year 3).

In this chapter, we go into more detail for kindergarten/preschool and child care/long day care. These contexts provide the largest number of ECEC programs in Australia, and this is where you will most likely be placed for at least one prac, or find yourself working after graduation. It is important for you to understand the differences, including the models of ECEC provision, including community-based/not-for-profit and for-profit.

You will be required to complete a prac placement in two of the key ECEC contexts — kindergarten/preschool and child care/long day care — which are the largest providers of prior-to-school programs. In the coursework component of your studies, you will have learned about children's developmental ages and stages. This will prove one useful starting point for preparing for your prac. In addition to the developmental psychology frameworks, there are many other factors that are equally important for you to understand if you are to experience success in each prac. Relationships, environments, cultures and policies all play out differently, and contribute to some of the complexities that are part of this field. You will develop more knowledge of all these factors throughout your coursework. Your prac experience will be one space where you can read the differences in action.

Some history: kindergarten

Kindergarten provides an ECEC program for children in the 2–5 years age group prior to the commencement of formal schooling. It is sometimes referred to as preschool. Historically, the German pedagogue Fröebel (see Wollons, 2000) focused on children learning through play, and the name literally translates to 'garden for children'. This can conjure up delightful images and analogies of young children growing freely, naturally and beautifully like flowers in a garden, with the 'gardener' tending, nurturing and caring. A kindergarten program is generally planned for children aged between 3 and 5 years. A notable feature of kindergarten/ preschool programs is a focus on learning through play. The idea that young children 'learn through play' is an enduring mantra of early childhood education, and 'play' is considered a way of learning (see DEEWR, 2009). Play-based learning has its roots in kindergarten, but the importance of play has infiltrated a wider range of ECEC contexts.

Partly as a result of the Early Years Reform Agenda (EYRA), there have been changes in ECEC in Australia. Kindergarten/preschool programs are increasingly now offered within long day care centre programs. Previously, they were mainly half-day programs. More and more kindergartens are now co-located on school grounds — either state/government schools or independent/private schools.

Child care

Participation in child care in Australia has increased significantly over the past two decades (ABS, 2011b), with over a million children attending prior-to-school early childhood services (Department of Education, 2013). With increased child care use, the most significant growth area has been for children aged 0 to 4 years (ABS, 2011b). In 1996, 13 per cent of children aged 0 to 4 accessed child care or long day care in any one week (ABS, 2011b). In 2011, 31 per cent of children in this age group were in child care, with child care usage continuing to grow.

The substantial increase in child care usage has been attributed largely to changing patterns of women's engagement in paid work (ABS, 2011a), with women more likely to remain in or re-enter paid work after having a child. Patterns of child care usage have changed at different points in time. For example, during the Second World War there was an increase in the numbers of women in paid work, and a commensurate rise in both the number of children seeking child care and the number of child care places. In recent years, the expansion in the number of child care centres, alongside the changes to government policy in early childhood, has seen issues pertaining to workforce and quality of care as central to reform in early childhood (COAG, 2008).

Despite the ongoing substantial increase in the demand for and utilisation of child care, arguments for and against it continue. Brain research and other empirical evidence supports reasons put forward for the expansion of child care, including the benefits for children, society and government (OECD, 2006). In addition, the focus on addressing poverty and disadvantage, as well as the benefits for children's wellbeing and social development, has particularly been highlighted, especially for children aged over 3. At the same time, children's participation in child care has been cautioned against, with some popular parenting books challenging child care use (Biddulph, 2006, 2008; Manne, 2005).

Child care centres historically have provided care and education for young children from birth to school age, so that parents are able to participate in paid employment. With their roots in the provision of care, moves in recent years to shift some of the dominant constructions of child care as 'care' have seen child care centres renamed 'Early Learning Centres' or 'Early Years Centres'. While child care has operated quite distinctly from kindergarten/preschool, this delineation is not a tidy one, and arguments are increasingly being made that child care does indeed include education (and, conversely, that kindergarten includes care).

The distinction of purpose between education and care is not a new discussion in the early childhood field. For some time, early years educators have grappled with the competing discourses of care and/or education. Historically, one consequence of the delineation has been the allocation of hierarchical status, with the marginalisation of professionals who work with younger children. Their working conditions (hours), remuneration and status have been consistently lower than those of their colleagues who work with older children. In part, this is due to an underlying belief that, with younger children, the work is just care, or babysitting — as opposed to work with older children, where learning and education are paramount, requiring a more skilled and qualified workforce. More recently, a case has been made for the integration of education and care, and the phrase 'early childhood education and care'— key to this text and central to this chapter — has emerged.

The early years

The map in Figure 1.1 shows field experience carrying across all four years of this particular program. Your early years prac experiences are different each time — unique to the local setting, but also different because of the age of the children, and the policies and practices that are deemed appropriate for each age group. The differences in settings become less pronounced when children are older. In general, the primary school years all take place in the one type of setting — a school. The younger the children, the more pronounced the growth, development and change over time.

For many young children and their families, attending child care is the young child's first sustained encounter with people from outside the family. Furthermore, for many young Indigenous children, and children of recently arrived immigrant or refugee families, attendance at child care may represent their first lengthy encounter with people outside the culture of their birth. The way in which they are welcomed, and the feelings of belonging that all children should have when they enter an early childhood centre, can have profound effects on their wellbeing and development. If children and their families cannot see themselves represented and reflected in the setting, what message does this send? What will they come to understand about themselves?

For at least part of your prac experiences, you will be placed in a setting where babies are cared for. Another prac block will involve children aged 2 or 3. Another prac experience will be with children aged 4 and 5. Yet another will be in the early years of primary school. With each prac, you will need to master the culture and context of the setting, and 'read' this as you develop your skills and build your knowledge — of children, relationships and pedagogies. In other parts of this book, you will find some important information about each of these settings, and what you might expect to learn from each of your pracs. Be sure to find out all you can in preparation for commencing any prac in any of the settings. This also applies if you are a graduate teacher taking up your first appointment.

Throughout this book, we constantly challenge you to reflect and revisit your developing ideas, experiences and identity as a teacher. In each of your pracs, we challenge you to:

• think like a teacher (see Chapter 3)

• act like a teacher (see Chapter 4)

• work like a teacher (see Chapter 5).

In the field of early childhood, any number of titles and nomenclatures are used to describe the people who care for and teach young children — educators, group leaders, lead educators, directors, assistants and so on. We use the term 'teacher' to refer to all of these people, whom we define not by their qualifications, but by their identities and their work.

The nature of teaching

Whether you have just completed twelve years of education yourself, or you have children of your own, or you have worked in other career choices and arrived at this point after some years of experience, the complexities in a teacher's daily work are rarely visible to those who do not teach.

You may, for instance, know a lot about your own children, but this does not mean you know a lot about children who have different backgrounds, cultures, lifeworlds, circumstances, histories, abilities or ethnicities. You may have just finished your initial twelve years of schooling, and feel you are very close to what makes a good teacher — and the kind of teacher you never want to become. But your experience of the process of pedagogy — what happens when teaching and learning occur — is from one perspective and one position: your own.

Another thread in this book relates to the kind of teacher you want to be, and we provide some pointers for getting there. They include the essential processes of your thoughtful consideration of values and ethics. Looking further ahead, we suggest some steps you might begin with immediately, which could eventually help towards your successful graduation and employability. Your experiences on prac are important for all of these reasons, and more.

What is early childhood education for?

According to the National Early Childhood Development Strategy (COAG, 2009), early childhood education and care are important for enabling every child to have the best start in life. Quality ECEC does this by:

• supporting parents as the child's most influential educators

• promoting early learning and successful transition to school

• addressing disadvantage and vulnerability early

• building human capital and economic prosperity.

Such claims are a long way from the traditional beginnings of nursery schools, kindergartens and similar institutions, which were started either to help improve the lot of poor children and keep them safe from life on the streets, or to provide a means by which women could participate in the workforce. Recent reforms in the field of early childhood education and care have been informed by a growing body of empirical evidence and research that provides evidence underlining the importance of a child's early growth and development for establishing the foundations of their health, learning, and social and cultural outcomes into the future. New policies also point to the benefits that accrue to society as a whole as a result of quality ECEC, through enhanced human capital and capability, increased productivity, greater social inclusion and reduced public expenditure on health, welfare and combating crime.

Where in the world might you find employment in the early childhood field?

One of the unique features of the field of early childhood education is its diverse workforce. Early childhood educators are variously qualified, perform various roles and deliver a variety of programs and curricula. There are differences in settings, funding sources, staffing and programs:

Did you know?

A curriculum is planned learning that is guided by educators. Curriculum documents provide frameworks and guidelines, or may even prescribe content in subject areas.

• family day care

• outside school-hours care

• long day care

• secondary schools

• kindergartens

• hospitals, art galleries, museums

• prep classes

• community organisations

• lower primary schooling (Years 1–3)

• policy and/or curriculum

• state-run, privately owned, corporate, religious, independent, local, national, international.


Excerpted from Being an Early Childhood Educator by Felicity McArdle, Megan Gibson, Lyn Zollo. Copyright © 2015 Felicity McArdle, Megan Gibson and Lyn Zollo. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of figures and tables,
Introduction: How to use this book,
1 Becoming, being, belonging: So you want to be an early childhood teacher?,
2 What is prac? Preparing for success across different settings,
3 Think like a teacher: Pedagogies, values and ethics,
4 Act like a teacher: Being professional,
5 Work like a teacher: Understanding curriculum documents, documentation, leadership and mentoring,
6 Stepping up, stepping out: Your employability,
7 Young children, different settings: Managing and connecting across contexts,
8 Your teaching toolkit: Never-fail strategies, tips and reminders,

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