Birth, Zero, Nought... does it matter what we call our littlest ones?
I visit a lot of early childhood services, meet a lot of educators, receive a lot of emails and listen to a lot of things. I love hearing a range of perspectives and ideas, I love connecting and feeling the energy that our profession has for the work that we do.
Last week, I presented some workshops at ECA Central Coast "Bounce Back" conference. It was a great day. Not only did I enjoy presenting in person again after a few disrupted years (no, we don't need to say why it was disrupted... we all know!), but I loved listening to other presenters and meeting amazing people. One theme that arose at the conference though, was around professionalism and exemplary practice. During the presenter panel in the afternoon, an attendee raised concerns about how our profession is still viewed in general society as "baby sitting". The MC for the panel was Bec Thompson of Stone and Sprocket, and Bec reminded us all of the importance of how we speak about our profession - calling it a profession and not an industry, or early education and care instead of day care.
This little snippet of discussion reminded me of a conversation that Tash and I have had before - something we are both passionate about, something that shaped the title of one of our books
Have you ever said "I work in the nought to two room" or "she's in the zero to three room"? You wouldn't be alone if you had. When I first did my training back in the early 2000's, this was a pretty common way to phrase it. And yet, what does that term say about our image of the child?
The word zero has a number of definitions, but one in particular, courtesy of Merriam-Webster, stands out: "a total lack of anything."
Likewise, the word nought is said to mean "nothing" according to the Collins Dictionary.
Is that what we think of our infants? That they are nothing?
Okay, I can almost hear you saying "that's a bit extreme". And I can understand your point, but as we know with so many things: WORDS MATTER.
Would we say "I'm working with the nothing to two year olds today"?
We want to be viewed as professionals, to be respected for the work that we do, and so we need to use professional and appropriate language that accurately reflects our image of the child. What if we said "Birth to two" or "Newborn to twos" instead of "nought to two"? It's not a hard change to make, but it recognises that our smallest children are not "nothing" and feels far more fitting of a respectful image of the child. It also connects to what we know to be true - that infants start developing well before they are even born, they are never a "blank slate". (For more on this, we recommend looking at the concept of the First 1000 days - this little video is a great introduction!)
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - what terminology do you use? And, do you think it matters.
Thank you for sharing. You are so right. Words matter.
I believe birth to two is my usual term for this space if I am talking to people who are not familiar with my workplace. Now, after reading your blog I am questioning myself. If it is someone who is familiar with my workplace I refer to the room by it’s name, Joeys room. That, I do know.
Thank you so much for sharing Nicole. It’s so true, you hear it all the time. The things that come out our mouth, shape not only ourselves, but our lives our career, our loved ones and people around us. Even if they be new borns. I am glad I took the time to sit and read.