Home > Career > Everything I need to know, I learned working in a daycare

Everything I need to know, I learned working in a daycare

From the end of high school through the first two summers of college I spent most of my academic breaks working in daycare centers.  As I’ve moved on to other jobs and phases of my life, I’ve slowly realized just how much I learned from spending my days with one-year-olds.  I thought I’d share a few of the big lessons.

1) Teams can be built.
I inherited a messy situation when I became lead teacher in the pre-toddler room.  The former lead teacher and one of her assistants had spent the last however many months treating the second assistant like dirt.  They gave her grunt work jobs all day, complained about how slow and stupid she was, and generally acted like schoolyard bullies.  Luckily they both left – but I was left with an assistant who’d been beaten down so long that she’d come to believe she was worthless.  In working with her and our new assistant teacher, I learned how to draw on people’s strengths, cede responsibility so that everyone on a team has meaningful work, and build a team culture that lets people know they’re valued and appreciated.  This practice of working in the same room, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week was a great training ground for building positive relationships in later jobs.

2) Germs are unstoppable. Try to have fun anyway.
I used to be deathly afraid of germs but I’ve calmed down a lot.  I had to.  There is no way to keep 12 one-year-olds away from germs.  It’s simply not possible.  You can minimize the germs they’re exposed to by cleaning surfaces, wiping noses, and encouraging them not to put everything in their mouths, but the germs will still find a way in.  And that’s okay.  They’ll survive.  And time spent worrying and cleaning and recleaning and sterilizing is time you don’t get to spend playing with them.

3) Kids bounce.
Adults bounce too, for that matter.  My director assured me of this when I was fretting about the kids falling off of the playground equipment.  She told me to watch them and to make sure they didn’t do anything reckless, but to remember that they have to be allowed to explore.  If they fall, she said, it will be okay.  Kids bounce.   I repeated this as a mantra as I watched the kids stretch to reach the top bar or climb to that next rung.  I didn’t let them take stupid chances, but I did let them some.  I try to keep that attitude in mind in my own life now – don’t be stupid, but don’t be afraid to take a risk either.  Chances are you’ll bounce.

4) When there’s a problem, the easiest thing to change is your own behavior.
If you and a one-year-old are locked in battle then you’ve seriously screwed something up.  The one-year-old isn’t going to change his behavior very easily, and rarely in response to threats, bribes, warnings or negotiations.  The easiest way to change a bad situation with a toddler is to change your contribution to it.  Really, this is a universal truth – the only person we control is ourself – but something about working with toddlers makes this point painfully clear.  I remind myself of it now in my classrooms, but also when I have a problem with a co-worker, roommate, friend, whomever.  If the situation isn’t working for me, I have to figure out what I can change to fix it.

5) Small children keep their eyes wide open until they fall asleep.
I admit, I haven’t found a use for this information yet, but it totally freaked me out when I first saw it.

Categories: Career Tags: , ,
  1. Lauren
    April 12, 2010 at 11:12 am

    When Alice stopped by the office, she picked up a block off the floor and put it in her mouth. I kind of freaked out, so she kept licking it. Not fun.

  1. April 13, 2010 at 12:32 am

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