how many parents would name a childcare educator as someone who plays a vital role in their child’s upbringing?
Probably some number a toddler could count to. Katherine Thomas, a seasoned educator of over 10 years from Brisbane, thinks it’s time to change that. Helping kids develop social and emotional skills has been her bread and butter since she was 17. But it’s more than just a job for Katherine. After working in both permanent and casual roles, Katherine now prefers the flexibility of temp work as a Randstad contractor. With the freedom to choose workplaces that align with her values, she is on a mission to raise good communicators and start her own conversation about the true value of early education.
Katherine’s journey as a childcare worker started 10 years ago with Randstad. She was 17, practically a child herself, and was second-guessing her decision to study education at university. She knew she wanted to work with children, but was being a school teacher her real calling?
That she wasn’t so sure of. With Randstad’s help, Katherine got her very first role as a preschool assistant working with kids from 4 to 5 years old. Back then it was 24 kids to 2 educators and well, it was a wild ride.
I’d had experience working with children, I did babysitting since I was about 12 so I thought I knew what I was getting into “ she laughs. “ I was really lucky I had a wonderful lead educator and a centre director who helped me a lot with a transition into the practical part of the job
So, Katherine dropped out of uni and went on to complete her Certificate III and, eventually, her Diploma in Early Childhood Education. She never looked back.
The thing that keeps me going is the children. The look on their faces when the concept you’ve been explaining to them clicks in their head. It’s this complete, absolute wonder at the world. You get a real sense of accomplishment and fulfilment just being a part of that.
It’s clear that Katherine found the right place for her talent. Describing herself as a “warm, empathetic person” she says kids can sense that:
They will come to me when they are not feeling well to curl up in my lap. There can be children I’ve never met before, who bypass their usual educators and come to me. Children feel the warmth. It’s a lovely feeling to see that appreciation.
Talking about why she now prefers casual work to permanent roles, Katherine has several reasons: “I love the flexibility. I’ve made great connections with some centres that request me specifically if they have available shifts, which is a lovely confidence boost.”
But the one reason that holds a special significance to Katherine is being able to stand for her values.
“With the temping work you get more variety, you get new challenges and it helps me develop my personal philosophy. Being a temp educator you can go into different childcare services, see what policies and procedures are in place and how they are implemented. If they don’t align with your values as an educator, you don’t have to go back there. You are more in control over the flow of your teaching.” she explains.
among katherine’s values, “clear and honest communication” takes the prime spot.
It’s something she lives by and it goes for all aspects of her life. As a temp worker, Katherine depends on timely communication to plan her schedule. And she says that the human presence is what sets Randstad apart in her eyes:
While I worked with many companies, what I appreciate about Randstad is that I know that I can call someone the night before my shift and someone will answer the phone.
It is the same principle of clear communication that Katherine aims at teaching kids. She wants children to know how to communicate when they are hurt, upset, or just need a cuddle - a skill that will no doubt come in handy when they are adults.
“I want children to see me as a safe person. So, if they have a problem, even if it is just a miss-I-fell-over-and-scraped-my-knee problem, they will come to me to share. I’ll give them a band-aid and a cuddle and they’ll be alright to go play”.
at the same time, communication goes both ways and katherine wishes more adults realised that when talking to children:
"You need to treat children as equals." she explains "Kids understand a lot more than we think they do. They are little people with their own ideas. If you say no to a child, you need to explain your reasoning. For example, if they are doing something dangerous and you ask them to stop, you should explain why. You could say, the way you are climbing this tree is dangerous because there is no mat here and you could fall. Do you think we could get a mat first so it is safer for you to play and explore?"
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for years, early educators have been struggling with the lack of understanding for their work in the wider community.
Even though the first five years of a child's life are crucial to their brain development, with at least a million new neural connections made every second, Katherine says that many people still view early learning centres mainly as child-minding services. There to provide relief to the working parents.
She admits that people tend to focus too much on school forgetting that all the groundwork is laid during the early learning period:
Those early years before school is when toddlers form their social, emotional skills they will then need to be able to flourish in that structured learning environment. Without those skills, going to school can be a struggle.
By speaking to Randstad about her work, Katherine hopes to bring awareness to the importance of early learning services. She raises a vital point that “childcare is seen as women’s work and women’s work has always been undervalued by society.”
And while the sector still needs some systemic changes, we can see a shift in public perception of childcare. Thanks to initiatives like Thrive by Five, an Australian campaign by Minderoo Foundation, there are calls to improve the standards of the early childhood education system and make it universally accessible, especially for women.
With the Covid-19 changing people’s routines, Katherine says she works more than she ever has.
Despite many parents accessing flexible work arrangements, early childhood socialisation is not something that can be done at home.
People are starting to realise that. Katherine is glad it opens the conversation about the value of her work but wishes there was more public recognition for the early childhood educators: