Have you ever considered the current Covid19 crisis from the perspective of young children for whom the world has been turned upside down? Children are isolated from extended family, carers and friends. By the time the Early Childhood Care and Education sector reopens at the end of June, at least four months will have passed since children attended an early childhood setting. That is a long time in the life of a young child. They may not have seen the familiar face or voice of carers or friends in all of this time. Is it reasonable then, to expect young children to simply pick up where they left off, when services closed on March 12?
Many, if not all early childhood educators, are familiar with the work of Nell Noddings who promotes the ethics of care. Her argument is that caring should be a foundation for ethical decision-making. She highlights the distinction between caring-for and, caring about. In her view, caring-for involves face-to-face encounters, in which one person – the educator for example, cares directly for another – the child (2002). In fact, the act of caring- for is the bedrock of early childhood care and education and, is perceived as paramount by educators who consistently stress the caring nature of their work. As Ireland now looks toward the re-opening of the ECCE sector at the end of June, I am drawn to the concept of caring-about, which, Noddings argues needs more attention. She indicates that we gradually ‘learn both to care-for and, by extension, to care-about others’. Indeed she suggests that caring-about underpins our sense of justice. Therefore, while the ‘preferred form of caring is cared-for, caring-about can help in establishing, maintaining, and enhancing it. Those who care about others in the justice sense must keep in mind that the objective is to ensure that caring actually occurs. Caring-about is empty if it does not culminate in caring relations. (Noddings 2002, p.23-24).
There is much evidence of early childhood educators caring-about children presently. Social media in particular speaks to this, whether it is through organising and delivering activity packs to children’s homes, narrating children’s favourite stories through Zoom, or organising virtual meetings to say hello and, stay in touch. There is no doubt that caring-about children in the current unprecedented circumstances, places demands upon early childhood educators, challenging them to think outside the box in creative, innovative and responsive ways. The value and power of the relational interactions between educators and children are immeasurable right now. Children thrive in stable consistent relationships. The interactions outlined provide an element of stability and continuity for children who do not understand what is happening in the world now. Through these relational interactions, the concept of caring-about, a fundamental principle of early childhood care and education is realised. Moreover, leadership and professionalism flourish. Caring-about is also evident in the numbers of educators engaging in CPD while away from their ECCE setting. In fact, the DCYA recently reported that no less than 17,000 ECCE providers and educators had accessed information regarding CPD on their website. This level of interest is indeed testament to the many educators who care-about and, wish to make a difference in young children’s lives in this time of crisis and beyond. The old adage ‘actions speak louder than words’ come to mind. As children are confined to their homes, do they know that their educators still care-about them. Each of us must ask in what ways we have let children know and, can let them know over the next two months, that we care-about them. Without doubt, there are uncertain times ahead and, some children for whatever reason, may never return to their early childhood setting, others may make the transition from early childhood to primary school without the opportunity to say ‘bye’ to educators and friends. For all of these reasons caring-about is critical, helping to establish, maintain and enhance caring-for. Between now and June 29th, when it is hoped that settings can reopen, can you give one or two hours of your week to caring-about children? Go on, record that story; make that call, sign up for online CPD. At the end of the day, caring-about will ease the stress of returning to ECCE in June for young children.
Dr. Mary Moloney is a researcher, author and lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Care at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. She worked as the coordinator of the Limerick City Childcare Committee from 2002 to 2006, and she owned, managed and worked directly with children in her own early years setting for many years. She is passionate about young children's early education and care, as well as the professional identity, and well-being of early childhood educators. Mary is also interested in international perspectives on early childhood education and her work has been influenced by visits to a broad range of countries including Slovenia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, and more recently by her work as a volunteer with refugee children and their families in Greece. Her latest book ‘Intentional Leadership for Effective Inclusion in Early Childhood Education and Care’ which she coauthored with Eucharia McCarthy motivates educators to work towards the common goal of creating a truly inclusive culture in which all children, with or without disabilities, are supported and enabled to fully participate in every aspect of daily life and learning.