Monday, October 3, 2011

What Early Childhood Education Can Do for Men

In an early childhood networking forum on facebook a colleague was kind enough to share a story. Lesley Romanoff works at Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School in Maryland, USA. You can learn more about Cooperative schools & the "Growing Together" blog that Lesley contributes to here:

The story Lesley shared was from a father who helped out at her school who just happened to be a high school teacher. His story is just one example of how men can benefit from experiencing working with young children. Here is what he had to say.

My experience as a co-oper over the last two years dramatically changed my perspective as a secondary-school teacher. Here are some of the aha moments that stand out for me:

#1. It is absolutely clear to me that early childhood education is HARDER than secondary education, that it requires as much or more training, that it requires a great deal more "with-it-ness," and that it cannot be prescriptive but must be responsive to each child, in each moment, each day.

#2. I have taken those lessons with me as I've returned to high-school teaching, and I am much more aware of and responsive to the individual needs in my classroom now.

#3. Co-oping, and watching you and Andrea at work, convinced me more than ever that play-based learning is a very natural and essential thing; I had already arrived at this conclusion in teaching high school, but if I had any lingering guilt about being a "playful" teacher (intentionally, of course) that guilt is not gone completely.

#4. The collaborative nature of teaching young children (with lead teacher and aides/co-opers) was a remarkable experience to be a part of, and I am convinced that this more complex set of relationships is essential to making a good learning environment happen each day. Now I'm back to being the lone adult in the room, but I can mimic that multiple-adult setting by placing a rotating cast of students in the "lead" roles each day. This is something I'm just starting to work on.

#5. All secondary school teachers should have the privilege of spending time -- lots of time -- in an early childhood educational setting. One recognizes in more than just an intellectual way that human beings learn along a continuum that stretches across the whole lifespan. The foundation laid in early childhood education is the MOST IMPORTANT part of that continuum, and within that foundation, the ability to find JOY and MEANING in the act of learning is the experience that kids need most (my opinion here). The more that a secondary educator can understand about the building blocks that have been laid in early childhood (and primary and middle school), the better he or she can see deeper into the minds of students, behind some of the fears and fronts that they may have adopted, to the child within, still eager to play, discover, and learn.

#6. Early childhood education is messy and imperfect, in the same way that all education is messy and imperfect -- only in early childhood education it's far more difficult to "fake it" and make it look like everything is a well-oiled machine. Well-oiled machines are overrated. I've taken this lesson with me back into secondary education, and I recognize that authentic learning is probably ALWAYS a messy and unpredictable process. If things are going exactly according to plan, I probably haven't engaged with the students, only with the material.

#7. Young children grab, hit, cry, wander off, break things, get distracted, and don't understand what they're being asked to do. This is a beautiful truth to behold, because it's a truth that remains true for young adults, even though they've learned to grab, hit, cry, etc. in more subtle and sophisticated ways. Being with young children has helped me see and accept the humanity in my students (and myself!) at a more profound and simple level.

So there you have it. One man's perspective on how working with young children influenced the way he now works with older children. I think it's important to note how he has identified the crucial element of a grounding & understanding of early childhood development & learning should be a must for all educators, not just those in the EC field. While very important, we often are so eager to espouse the benefits men bring to the early childhood education profession & to the children themselves that we forget that it can be just as fulfilling & crucial to men for them to have opportunities to engage with young children authentically.

We thank Lesley for her foresight in sharing this with us, but most of all we should be thankful to this father for his openness, honesty & willingness to share his personal thoughts & experiences. Maybe we should all spend some time in someone else's shoes to gain an alternative perspective on life, work & everything in between. This post has truly been a collaborative effort.

Other male blogs you should have a look at:
Tom Hobson -
Scott Wiley -
Matt Halpern -


  1. These are some pretty amazing insights! Thanks Lesley and Greg for collaborating and sharing them!

  2. You're right Greg! Just think, if every secondary school teacher got to spend time with preschoolers, they just might have a greater understanding of who their students are and how they learn best!
    Donna :) :)

  3. This is a really good insight.

  4. This is an amazing testimony from the father and what he learnt. I found your interesting site at Early Play Australia. It is so important for men to be teaching children and I await your next posts.