Craig d’Arcy, facilitator of the Newcastle Males in Early Childhood Network Group, discusses the barriers that men often face in early childhood and why it’s crucial we work to remove these obstacles.
Early childhood carers and educators strive to avoid stereotypes and ensure that all children are presented with healthy and diverse messages about gender identity – through the language we use, the images we portray, the environment we maintain, the diverse experiences we implement and the interactions we engage in at our services.
All of us aim to provide both boys and girls with opportunities to explore their own meaning of what it is to be male or female and to carry this into adulthood.
Male staff and volunteers in children’s services are the essential missing ingredient from these valuable ideals – particularly in Australia, where they make up only about two per cent of early childhood staff.
Typical barriers for men in the early childhood sector include:
* negative community attitudes, including the fear of being accused of abusing children
* an extremely low number of other men in the profession and hence a lack of inspiring role models
* studying or working in isolation from other men
* community perceptions that working in children’s services is little more than babysitting, thus also contributing to low pay and poor working conditions
* not being effectively recruited, supported or retained when students or workers
* often being seen as a token or novelty, noticed because of their gender, not their skills or qualifications.
Strengths that men provide
Men have something to offer which is different to what females offer young children. When men and women are working together in teams, children’s experiences are enhanced.
Traditional arguments for increased male involvement centre on:
* the developmental needs of children
* the positive ways that male staff can model relationships
* the possible benefits to fathers
* men adding their voices in calling for better working conditions and wages in children’s services.
Many of the reasons for men entering the profession are the same as their female colleagues, but a lot of men who choose this non-traditional career often have further experiences and skills that they wish to contribute.
Michael is a teacher in a long day care service who says he became motivated after having children of his own and wanting to show others, including fathers, that men can take on caring and nurturing roles:
‘I have been a strapper and a meat processing worker but I like the idea of being a pioneer. I like to push the boundaries and do physical activities with the boys and girls that they wouldn’t normally do. I also felt that I could help provide a positive and stable male role model that many children in my local area are lacking.’
Reflecting the increasing interest in the roles of men and women in the profession, a working forum on men in early childhood education was held in May 2008 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The working forum is a World Forum project to create a global meeting place to identify actions and promote men’s participation worldwide. Early Childhood Australia is a member of the World Forum Alliance.
You can find out more about the forum at: www.worldforumfoundation.org/wf/projects/men_ece/
Supporting men in early childhood
The bottom line in our work is that we aim to promote the wellbeing of all children. In order to do so we need to recognise that men are essential in early childhood services – and that blokes can do it as well.
Males in Early Childhood Network Group
References and further reading
Hamilton, K. (2003). ‘Daddy Daycare’: What’s keeping men from a career in early childhood? Rattler, 68, 6-8.
Sargent, P. (2004). Between a rock and a hard place: Men caught in the gender bind of early childhood education. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 12(3), 173-193.
Males in Early Childhood Network Group (2006, 8-9 July). Workshop on the benefits of male involvement in early childhood services. Participant comments at the Males in Early Childhood Summit, East Maitland, NSW.