For many parents lockdown is proving to be a testing time. While saluting the key workers who are so incredibly stretched, our minds have drifted to those other unsung heroes in our 'normal lives' - the beloved early years professionals who usually take care of our children every day. With many childminders, nursery teams and nannies across the UK currently unable to work, our Head of Content Isabel reflects on the impact lockdown has had on the sector, and families like hers who rely on it. And to our dear tiney home leaders - we value you, we miss you and we can't wait for you all to open your doors again!
Has it been six weeks now? Six weeks since those unsettling final pick-ups, as schools, nurseries and childminders closed their doors to most of us with no idea when they might be allowed to open again? It feels like six months, but it really has only been six weeks, just the length of the summer holidays, but it hasn’t felt much like the summer holidays, has it?
On that final day, outside our four year old’s bright and comfortingly noisy reception classroom, I wondered if he would ever spend a day with you again, hanging onto your every word, trying to impress you and learning so much from you. And when would he next get to play with the friends he had spent the past six months or so making in this warm, wonderful place? As I stuffed mysterious learning resources into a bag for life, because of course I’d forgotten to bring his book bag (you would never forget his book bag…), all of the parents had the same panic in their eyes. Now we were in charge of all this? As well as our jobs? Would we even have to - gasp! - let them do messy play?
Then, later on that same weird day, at our two year old’s final pick-up for… weeks? Months? Who knows? - I wondered if next time she saw you, would she even remember you? But how could she forget you? You’ve sung to her, read to her, cuddled her and changed her nappy every week day for over a year. You’ve patiently responded to her endless curiosity (does being asked “What dat noise?” 30 times a day sound familiar?), gently wiped her sticky hands and lovingly brushed her even stickier hair - the hair that causes tantrums at home when we try to touch it, but she’s “good as gold” with you, we hear. She’s been coming to you since she was 11 months old and every drop-off has been a dream; she strides in confidently to her safe place full of fun and friends, comfort and chaos (and crackers, she really misses those crackers). Would you even still be here on the other side?
That day, like every other day, she stomped home happily, proudly clutching the adorable Mother’s Day gifts you had helped her make, oblivious to the doom all around her. Oblivious because, of course, you had done such a great job of keeping things normal and fun for the children. Even though you were worried about your job, your health, your family and the state of the whole world, staying positive for the little ones just comes so naturally to you; that’s why they enjoy spending time with you so much.
We weren’t doing such a good job of staying positive at home, frantically drawing up schedules that incorporated phonics, junk modelling, outside time, messy play, potty training, reading, music, numbers, rainbow-drawing and Sir Joe Wicks (it’s only a matter of time). We were overwhelmed and intimidated by all the “helpful” tips online and wondered how we could possibly fit all of this in around the cooking, the housework, the queuing at the supermarket, and the small matter of our full-time jobs…
I suddenly realised how many important activities we normally outsourced to you without thinking, and how much we relied on parties, trips out and, of course, Peppa Pig, to keep them happy at weekends, always safe in the knowledge that you took care of the essential stuff so brilliantly while we worked all week. Parenting without museums and soft play centres, swings, slides and grandparents is tough; parenting without you, the professionals who feel like family, is almost impossible.
As the days turned into weeks, we realised one of the main challenges was keeping children of different ages entertained at the same time - a two and a half year age gap can feel like 20 years when they’re little - something many of you working in early years do every day and make it look so effortless. We now know it isn’t effortless, that being creative, caring, organised and energetic at the same time, and all with a smile on your face, is like plate-spinning. We know your job can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting - much more exhausting than us spending our days buried in Zoom calls and spreadsheets, but often so much more fun and rewarding too.
In some ways it’s getting easier - we’ve learned a few tricks from you; we know you give the children choices, we know you meticulously plan activities ahead of time, even when you just feel like vegging out in front of Tiger King, we know we don’t really need to panic about phonics because learning through play is so important and we know that children need downtime too and that sometimes we should just go with the flow. We now have a full stock of googly eyes and pipe cleaners and we believe that we’ll be better parents by the end of this. We can tell that the children are, in many ways, enjoying spending more time at home with us, but we’re also tackling broken sleep, sudden clinginess, power struggles and endless questions that all point to one thing: they really miss their old routine, the routine that’s all down to you.
So many people are reconsidering their career options right now - either because they’ve been forced to, or because this strange, eerie period has given them unexpected headspace and inspiration - and so we hope that, now that so many people have realised how important you are (not to mention how fun it can be to make a papier-mache volcano), and how much society falls apart without you, they might decide to join you. We know that the early years sector needs more people like you; people who find children endlessly fun and fascinating, and want to make a real difference to their lives. When we clapped for key workers, we weren’t just thinking of doctors and nurses and couriers and bus drivers; we were picturing your faces too.
Six weeks in, we’ve never been more in awe of early years professionals - and never more desperate to see you again soon.
tiney is on a mission to unlock the potential of every child: if you’re considering a change of career and love the idea of making a difference to children’s lives along with a professional salary, ongoing support and the flexibility of being your own boss, training as a tiney home leader could be the perfect move for you. You can find out more and register for one of our new webinars here.
Photo by Alex Jackman on Unsplash.