Mainstream and social media in the year 2018 was dominated by adults engaged in behaviour that (let’s face it) if displayed by children, would trigger a cascade of psychological and protective service responses. However, the year also brought about at least one documentary that showed a grown adult behaving in ways we might actually want our children to aspire to.
The documentary, called Won’t you be my neighbour [i], explores the life and philosophies of Fred Rogers: the host of the children’ television show Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood, running from 1962 to 2001. The importance of his contribution was, as (under)stated in the documentary, was that he was ‘an adult who cares’.
At the centre of Rogers’ philosophy was the word four-letter word: Love. He said:
Love is at the root of everything.
Love. Or the lack of it.
This documentary is not important because Rogers was particularly unique. Rather, it is important because his work gave voice to hundreds of thousands of ‘adults who care’ every day in their early childhood work with little children.
Perhaps coincidentally, 2018 was also the year that Jools Page published her long-awaited treatise on Professional Love in early childhood settings. In it, she exquisitely argues:
young children crave relationships with adults who understand them and who will not reject their bids for attention, i.e. babies and young children need care-givers who will ‘listen’ and who are able to ‘tune into’ them in a multitude of ways. This is not because these adults are paid to care-give but because they are compelled to respond with care and eventually with love that is formed over time within the context of closely attached relationships [ii].
More and more leaders in the early childhood setting are beginning to push back against the push-down of academic curriculum. We are increasingly using words like care, gratitude and kindness to describe and frame pedagogy, programming and curriculum. In the face of current political pressures, these are all revolutionary ideas. Yet they are also the most fundamental ideas of all about what it means to be human.
But, as Page reminds us, let’s not stop there. Let’s not use these words as euphemisms simply to avoid using the four-letter word that all children need to hear, feel and experience in their relationships: Love.
Or, in the words of Mr Rogers,
The greatest thing we can do is let someone know that they are loved, and capable of loving.
Research-to-practice ideas for early childhood educators, carers and support workers:
ConsiderDo you talk about love in your work? Do think of your work as a form of ‘love’? How do the parents you work with and support think about the love you provide their children with? Do they support this? Or are they wary and uncertain? How do parents give you permission to love their child, in their absence?
AskHow do the children you care for feel love? What is their perspective on what it means to be loved and to love?
WatchHow does love show up in your actions? In your work? In your conversations with co-workers and managers?
[i] “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Movie | Official Website | Trailers and Release Dates | Focus Features, accessed December 1, 2018, http://www.focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor.
[ii] Jools Page, “Characterising the Principles of Professional Love in Early Childhood Care and Education,” International Journal of Early Years Education 26, no. 2 (April 3, 2018): 131, https://doi.org/10.1080/09669760.2018.1459508.
Alice originally trained as a Registered Nurse, and is an Early Childhood Educator. For 25 years has worked with parents, health and early childhood professionals, and organisations to strengthen development and learning outcomes. She specialises in the use of relationship-based practice and early mental health, social and emotional development. Her many achievements have been recognised in child protection, violence prevention, and early childhood education awards.