Thinking about the Early Child: What it involves
Our programme ‘Thinking about the Early Child’ is designed for people who, with no or limited post-school education, are working with children under seven, their parents and caregivers. The only criterion for participants wanting to take part in the course is that they are working, or are interested in working, with children under the age of seven. Participants need access to pre-school children in order to complete the practical requirements of the course.
The central idea of the training is to provide the child caregivers with an introduction to the emotional world of the child, by understanding their own emotional world. The course aims to introduce caregivers to the emotional aspects of teaching, learning and development with children under the age of seven. This is about exploring the emotional world of the child, from pregnancy through the first few years of life. In addition, the course aims to facilitate self-awareness and growth in the childcare workers themselves in order to increase sensitivity and thoughtfulness in their work.
The course is embedded in the relationship between ‘mother’ (or primary caregiver, which in the South African context is often not the mother) and child, and how this serves as a blueprint for all future relationships. The crucial role of the early childhood development practitioner in the development of the child is also emphasised and explored. The course also incorporates an observational component where trainees are introduced to the skill of purposeful observation.
The course is presented in 3.5-hour sessions offered once a week for 10 weeks. During this time, the training incorporates experiential learning and group sharing of experiences, both of which encourage self-reflection and growth. Each session also incorporates a focus on observational skills. The course is experiential and interactive. Experiential training requires trainees to be engaged in the process and to interact as they would in real life. The course facilitates the trainees’ own personal exploration of child development through exploring their own experiences as children and with their own children. Participants become mentally and emotionally involved in the training.
In tailoring the course for different groups, we probe where the learner should be by the end of the course. What should people who work with the early child have gained at the end of the ten weeks?
Some of the key outcomes include:
Understand the internal or emotional world of children and how they might experience life from conception to seven years of age
Develop greater awareness that infants and children have an emotional world
Link this to an understanding of the emotional world of the teacher or caregiver
Use the Ububele model of Listen, Observe, Feel and Think (LOFT)
Become more observant, learn not to attribute and to be more sensitive in observation
Grow awareness of development of child’s emotional life and evocation of own feelings
Develop improved ways of communicating with children, parents and caregivers.
How we have implemented Thinking about the Early Child
The Thinking about the Early Child training aimed to provide training in the psychosocial aspects of child development and support to practitioners working in community-based settings, particularly with orphans, vulnerable and traumatised children.
Prior to the training, all managers of the community-based organizations involved were contacted telephonically and invited to attend a plenary meeting aimed at management that would be held at the Pretoria training venue on 7 September 2011. The aim of this plenary was to secure management buy-in and increase participant attendance of training and the follow-up workshops after the training was finished. Next, the managers were asked to allow the Ububele Persona Doll practitioners at their organizations to attend the trainee plenary, as well as the ten-week training. They were also allocated a number of extra places per organization for new trainees.
The training was completed over three months from 21 September 2011 until 30 November 2011. The training was ten sessions long and each session ran from 9.00am to 12.30pm. The training started with an introduction to the course, as well as an introduction to observation with the use of video material.
In the second session, the mother and infant’s experience of both pregnancy and birth were explored. The training then moved on to looking at the child’s holistic development from infancy to the age of six. The fruitful discussions at each age were complemented by a work discussion group exploring the observation of children within that specific age category. In this way, observation skills were developed at the same time as the trainees explored child development. The trainees spend the time in empathic reflections about the child’s emotional experience through exploring their own recollections of their childhoods.
At the initial trainee plenary, all of the trainees were asked to fill in pre-training questionnaires. At the end of the training, participants were asked to complete a participant evaluation form. After the training, the content of the questionnaires was compared and used to help the trainers to better understand the achievement of the outcomes and the trainees’ personal experiences of the training process.
What we have learned through the experience
1. Trying to understand the work of the trainees and the context of this work
Prior to developing Thinking about the Early Child, a training needs plenary was held with child caregivers. As part of the Extended Public Works Programme (EDWP), these remarkable people work with orphans and vulnerable children every day for a very small monthly stipend. Working in small groups, the participants identified some of the key challenges and joys of their work and articulated their need for training and support.
How hard it can be to work with children: There are so many needy children that this can be overwhelming for child care workers.
The hope and the fulfilment of working with children: The hope of being able to make a difference in the lives of children.
What the caregivers bring to their work with children: Passion and caring, their own personal difficulties and judgment.
What the caregivers can learn from children: How children think, patience and perseverance, genuineness and honesty.
Practical difficulties of the work: Long distances to walk, safety issues of home visits and being unable to provide for material needs.
Personal difficulties with the work: The caregivers worry about the children and this impacts their interactions with family and friends.
The need for emotional support and training for child care workers: Addressing the children’s emotional well-being creates a need for emotional support to address the feelings these needs raise in child caregivers and they need to understand more about children and their feelings, as well as how children develop and how to help them.
Training is more effective if the facilitators better understand the life experience, contexts and circumstances in which the trainees live and work from their perspective.
2. Developing and sustaining ongoing relationships
The establishing of long-term relationships is always seen as very important in the Thinking about the Early Child training.
Relationships with the managers of CBOs ensure that their full support is behind the training. This helps with trainee attendance during the training. It also helps the managers to feel that there is some support available to them in their roles as managers. This has benefits for both the CBO as a whole, as well as the community in which the CBO is based and the many clients utilising the CBO’s services.
Relationships with the trainees themselves ensure that they are personally committed to the training process. At the initial plenary, potential trainees are given the option of attending training. If they decide that they themselves would like to attend, they sign a consent form. This is respectful of the trainees and their own decision-making capacity. Following the training, qualified trainees are invited to attend a workshop at Ububele four times per year. This ensures that the relationship, as well as the support that they receive is ongoing.