Slow Down the Start
There's something about a new year that brings renewed energy and enthusiasm for what we do. Even when our sector is facing many challenges (retention, staff illness, inadequate wages), there is still a buzz about a new year. We all want to start well, and often that means throwing everything we have at it. But what if that's not the start we really need? What if by going in strong, we run the risk of burning out fast?
When I was working in a service, I loved the beginning of the year. I loved meeting new children and families. I loved setting up new environments. I loved starting a new diary or notebook (I actually still love that!). I was always bursting with ideas and excitement for what was to come.
But, the reality of the start of a new year is often quite different to the dream. There are often many children starting care for the first time, and while some settle in like they've been there for years, others will take a lot of time - a lot of cuddles, a lot of connection, a lot of energy. The new year may also bring new team dynamics, with some educators shifting rooms within a service. There's new families learning how things are done and sometimes needing us to make sense of what we do and the why behind it (particularly in services that embrace risky play, excursions, nature play and the like).
These things all take time. And they should take time, they deserve to take time. And so, this year, perhaps it's time to slow down the start. I once heard from a colleague in New Zealand who shared that their service had staggered "starting weeks" to allow children to settle in, to gain the extra attention they need and deserve. Yes, there were some logistical challenges to this concept, but the benefits far outweighed those.
We often rush into programming too - aware of the need to document and reflect and have a stellar program. But perhaps that needs to be slowed down too. Surely the care and connection - the relationship building - must come first? A service I know doesn't do any observations or documentation in the first few weeks of the year. They might take some photographs and won't actively ignore an opportunity to meaningfully document the learning, development and experiences taking place, but the pressure is off. It's not a matter of ticking each child off, ensuring that they have a learning story each week. It's the recognition that time is best spent on relationship building.
By all means come into this new year with enthusiasm - our sector needs it! But also remember that there is no rush. Things will happen as they happen. And, when we take the time to connect, to make children and families feel settled and welcome, to build a strong, cohesive team - we reap the rewards all throughout the year.