Men in Childcare – Does it Matter to Children?

Earlier this week I attended the launch of the London Early years Foundation, Men in Childcare group, hosted by charismatic CEO June O’Sullivan and the irrepressible David Stephens, manager of the LEFY Angel Community Nursery.

It was so encouraging to see the strong attendance and support for this event and for so many attendees to register their commitment to ongoing involvement.

Hats off to both David for proposing this and for June in encouraging, supporting and enabling him to make it happen. There was no doubting the passion and enthusiasm.

Those of us involved over the years, in campaigning for a more equal balance in the workforce, and there were several of us represented in the upstairs room of the Barley Mow in Horseferry Row, were heartened to finally see something (anything) get off the ground in the UK.

May it go from strength to strength with a clear mandate and determination to celebrate and support those men already undertaking this vital work alongside their female colleagues; to attract more men, young and old, to join them; to mentor trainees and to change the culture within and outside our sector to remove any barriers or stigma from being a male in our profession. It is vital for the sake of our children.

To coincide with this event, LEYF published the results of their research into the benefits (or not) of men working in childcare. This piece of action research, albeit on a small scale is notable for the approach taken by the author Sue Chambers, in using children’s own expressed choices / decisions about the practitioners working with them.

In essence, the children were provided with pictures of various familiar activities and photographs of the individual in their usual team of carers. Boys and girls were asked to choose preferred activities and then to select a preferred member of staff with whom they would like to undertake this activity.

Results are presented in tabular format by activity, analysed statistically by gender, eg who many (%ge) children chose football as an activity and of these how many boys elected to do this with a male or female practitioner and how many girls likewise. These were compared to adults’ predictions of what and with whom (male or female) they thought the children would choose.

It was a small sample and therefore probably illustrative rather than a definitive study, however there were some interesting results which did not bear out the stereotypical prejudgements – eg boys wanting to play football with men. In many cases, results were gender neutral or the opposite of what might have been expected.

Based on my own experience, I would say that children are typically not bothered about the characteristics of their partners in play – gender, race, age etc. They just want to know if you are interested in them. I see children walk round the adult who they do not relate to, to engage with the person, male or female, who is down on the floor at their level ready and keen to share their life, fun and enthusiasm with them.

So do we need men in Early Years? – most definitely yes. Are they all going to play football and rough and tumble? – no, not necessarily but then neither are all the women going to only stay indoors and sit daintily doing cooking. Thank goodness!!

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