Child's play harder than it looks

Education reporter gives childcare a go

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 07:52 07/01/2014
Lucy Townend
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

ICE COOL: Manawatu Standard journalist Lucy Townend with children from Parkland Kindergarten.

Lucy Townend
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
TOWING THE LINE: Lucy Townend is paraded around the play area in a cart.

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There's more to being a kindergarten teacher than wiping snotty noses and nursing booboos. Education reporter Lucy Townend tries her luck caring for crowds of tiny tykes.

I like kids; always have. I even imagine myself having a few sprogs one day, hoping everything goes OK.

But, I have to admit, after a morning of chasing after about 40 children at Palmerston North's Parkland Kindergarten, I'm rethinking the request from my fiance to have a rugby team's worth of them.

For this summer's Give it a Go series I tested my luck as a teacher in the hope of both giving me a better insight into the portfolio I report on at the Manawatu Standard and motherhood.

Last year I switched from covering district councils to education - which includes everything from early childhood to tertiary - and as I continue to find my feet in the round I figured "what better way to understand the daily dealings of the teachers I talk to than by spending some time in their shoes?".

The thought of fronting a classroom at a primary or secondary school seemed a bit much, let alone a lecture theatre, so instead I signed up for a morning as a makeshift early childhood educator and was warmly welcomed by the Ruahine Kindergarten Association.

It started off easy. I enjoyed an iceblock with a handful of 4-year-olds chatting about some of their biggest concerns that day - brain freeze, where the rubbish went, sun hats, summer weather and did I know that bacon comes from pigs?

When the short-lived apprehensions about who this strange new person was faded, which only took a matter of moments, it was quickly replaced by the curiosity and constant questioning typical of happy-faced kids.

I was petted and prodded, my ponytail stroked, perfume sniffed and outfit choice examined, while the cry "Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, over here, hey Lucy, Lucy, Lucy" was ringing in my ears.

I was shown secret hiding places, had multiple trips down the slide, convinced a few kids to tow me around in a cart for a while for the trade-off of towing them twice. I helped cut out pictures of Spiderman, made necklaces, pushed swings, climbed monkey bars, scaled forts, moulded play dough, doodled, caught bugs, dug holes in the sandpit, and was swamped on a beanbag while trying to read Where's Wally?

It was tough, I was exhausted, and it had only been half an hour.

Parkland's head teacher Heidi Burden says it's always full-on and there's always someone needing tending to.

Early childhood carers become more than just minders of the miniature humans, they're teachers, nurses, counsellors, cooks, cleaners, craft experts, accountants, storytellers and, most importantly, friends.

They're not just glorified babysitters who spend the day playing games with the kids, they also know the ins and outs of how to help children learn and blossom.

All of Parkland's teachers have tertiary-level qualifications in early childhood education; one of them even has her masters in the field.

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Although I have playing and eating lunch down pat, I would probably fall short on the education-sharing side of things.

Parkland prides itself on child-led learning, where everyday activities shape kids' schooling, with the teachers constantly providing support to help grow cognitive learning, strong motor skills and overall clever cherubs.

Each child that comes through Parkland gets a scrapbook which documents what they spend their days doing and how it relates to their development.

Looking at the 40 4-year-olds that were at kindy during my visit, plus the same again in 3-year-olds on the centre's roll, it soon adds up to a lot of book work for Heidi and her team.

That, coupled with the downsides of dealing with whippersnappers, like snotty noses, sticky fingers, wiping bottoms and booboos - hey, you know what? - my current career choice is not that bad at all.

There is something refreshing when you're looking into the face of a preschooler and a pair of worry-free eyes peer back at you filled with only raw enthusiasm for learning and life.

But I'm happy to say, teachers keep your day job and I'll keep mine, and when I do start that rugby team, I'll be sending them your way.

- Manawatu Standard

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