Laughter and children’s chatter fill the brightly lit room at College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) Children’s Centre in St. John’s.
Two little blond girls are playing an oversized board game complete with supersized red dice.
A little boy wearing a T-shirt that says “I hear you but I’m not listening” runs around the miniature-sized table and chairs. He smiles, says hi and runs off.
Fish with elegant tails glide effortlessly through the water in an aquarium.
The Children’s Centre is licenced for children from six months to 82 months of age and is a demonstration centre for the early childhood education program offered through CNA. Students of the program use the centre as part of the lab work required for their courses, as well as for field placement.
Priority placement is given to students and faculty of the college.
Sitting at one of the little tables in the room for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten-age children is a five-year-old boy who loves to play with animals.
He loudly makes the sounds of an eagle, owl and bear.
“Which one do you like, a beaver or a lion?” he asks, not quite pronouncing the “L.”
He’s sitting next to Suzann Hanames, an early childhood educator who’s been in the field for more than 30 years.
She looks him in the eye and sounds out the letter, “L-L-L-Lion,” and encourages him to try again.
He does so with success and she gives him praise.
Hanames says he, and every other child she has nurtured throughout her extensive career as an educator, is the reason she does it.
“It’s about childhood development. We educate children early at the most crucial time,” she said.
She’s aware of other, inaccurate titles used to describe early childhood educators — “daycare workers,” “child care workers” and sometimes “glorified babysitters.”
A babysitter, she said, is someone who comes to your house and watches TV while the children are sleeping and the parents are out for the evening.
“We do much more than that,” she said.
“We’re responsible for social skills, cognitive development, guiding behaviour, emotional regulation — every facet of childhood development, ” she said.
“It’s the most important job in the world, aside from parenting, at the most important time of a child’s life. We provide the proper guidance, tools, education and nutrition for them to flourish as young children,” said Hanames.
Early childhood educators in the two-year program receive training in child development, from prenatal to adulthood; curriculum programming for young children; creative experiences including music, art, dramatic play, children’s literature, creative movement; guiding behaviour; working with families; administration and professional development; health, safety and nutrition.
The centre’s homerooms are broken into four groups: six infants with two educators; eight toddlers with two educators; 16 preschool children ages three to five, with two educators; and eight preschool and kindergarten children with one educator.
Lisa Lannon, who is wrapping up her program, feels most at home in the toddler room. She has an
11-month old baby girl at home and misses her snuggles.
When Lannon graduates and becomes certified, she’ll run an infant care facility in her own home where she can care for three babies, not including her own.
“I take pride in it,” says the 28-year-old. “It’s what I’m passionate about.”
Lannon said she worked in a child-care centre part time as she began a career in social work at Memorial University, but after experiencing that work she decided to put her degree on hold and do the early childhood education program.
She said it’s a big deal to operate a regulated facility, which includes getting commercial insurance, and regular home visits from government agencies and fire and safety inspectors.
By now it’s lunch time, and the smell of homemade chicken noodle soup wafts through the air. Children can be heard asking for soup and milk.
In the toddler room, every highchair has a name on it and every bowl has two spoons — one for the child and one the educators can use when the children need help.
One child screams “bib!” as the food is passed around.
“He knows the routine,” says Lannon, explaining he won’t eat until someone puts his bib on.
Hanames said children function better when they know what to expect, and that’s why early childhood educators have a routine for each group.
It begins in the morning with circle time — music and movement, and includes two outdoor breaks, quiet time and the play-based learning that is the basis of early childhood education.
Hanames said educators observe the children to see what they are interested in and develop web-based models for activities and learning based on that.
At the centre of the web is the topic of interest and it’s surrounded by 10 areas with different activities used to teach the children about the central topic.
Each area incorporates things like buckets, music, coloured objects and puzzles, to engage the children about the subject.
“It’s play-based learning, but it’s not just playing,” said Hanames. “It’s teaching through playing, where children learn the most.”
She said she can’t emphasize enough the importance of the work they do, from taking care of children with a range of abilities and needs to mentoring the graduate students who will one day be early childhood educators for the children of the future.
“It is crucial. The relationship we have with the children and their parents — we are like a family and we support each other for the development of the child.
“We are more than just babysitters,” she said.