I began working with children through what I suppose is the usual route – babysitting (a word I now hate – it’s often confused with what nursery nurses do), then doing a year of voluntary work in Castlemilk for Glasgow City Council. I love children, it’s the sort of work I wanted to do, and this was a fairly typical way of starting out.
But of course it was “just the start”, and it was a major step from that point to go on to become a nursery nurse, with all the work towards qualifications and commitment which that entails. In my case, certainly, it seemed like a natural progression – you get to the point where it seems hard to imagine you could be doing anything else – and it ultimately moved from being a job to really being a career.
Later, of course, I then went the extra distance to become nursery manager, because I felt by then I was ready to take on the extra responsibility.
I worked in several nurseries before beginning at what is now the Little Einstein’s nursery (in fact two nurseries, in adjacent buildings) in Glasgow’s Hillside Road, where I’ve been for nine years.
Little Einstein’s is a terrific example of what I think a nursery should be like: there’s positivity about the place which obviously must be good for the children, and a proper commitment to the whole business of nursery life which guarantees an extremely busy life for all concerned.
The surroundings are first class, and the play and other equipment is of great quality – really everything is set up to enable us to provide a truly exceptional preparation for life at school.
As nursery manager I have a high degree of responsibility for the way the whole thing works, but also some very potent assets to help me – particularly the strong team spirit which pervades everything we do at Little Einstein’s.
It is a cheerful place to be, and individual abilities and achievements are properly recognised: we’re definitely a “family”, and we frequently socialise together – outside work too, and not just around the job.
The daily round
There isn’t really such a thing as a “typical” day at Little Einstein’s, even if much of what happens obviously conforms to the routine events which punctuate the day – starting time, lunch, and so on.
There are potentially so many activities to organise and supervise, quite apart from all the involvement and liaison with parents, that we are never lost in mere routine. We’ve a strong emphasis on learning through enjoyment, and many of the activities which take place are primarily designed to educate – whether it’s in reading and writing, using computers, or learning social skills through various games and other fun activities.
My day starts at 7.30am and ends at 6pm, and it’s basically a non-stop whirl of supervision, dialogue and participation: there are never anything like enough hours in the day for all the things we would like to see accomplished, but at the same time we do get through a remarkably busy and varied programme during a term.
One point which continually annoys me, when you consider all this, is that people still quite often see nursery nursing simply as looking after children, as if you were merely there to watch the kids while the parents are at work.
Of course, at its most basic, that’s exactly what we do – but there’s a fundamental misconception that what goes on in nurseries is somehow fundamentally different from what happens in schools. The idea that you move from a situation where you are just keeping an eye on the children to school and “real” education simply doesn’t bear examination.
At Little Einstein’s we have a very high ratio of nurses to children, and an agenda which is heavily centred on developing skills through close supervision – really working with the children as individuals, as well as in the organised activities where they’re acting as a group.
The best part of the job is seeing that what you are setting out to achieve is really coming about. You can literally see the positive effects of what you are doing, and the difference it makes to the life of each individual child.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s in terms of education or social development, or improvement in behaviour: you know that every positive step which you can help a child to achieve will give him or her a better start to school. For this to work you really need a close level of supervision, and a commitment towards building up a relationship with the child over weeks and months – and this is why any notion that we are really only a sort of babysitter is silly. It’s a job which demands patience, intelligence and perseverance, and, of course, an instinctive personal need to do the best for the children in your care.
The difficult part, inevitably, is when it’s time for the children to leave for school, after you have spent so much time with them, and become so involved in their lives. When you think about it, being with anyone for ten hours a day (frequently on a one-to-one level) for three years is a major commitment in any terms.
The real job satisfaction comes from knowing that you have done your best and that you really have made a difference.
After nearly a decade at Hillside Road it does obviously occur to me from time to time to ask myself whether I want to stay indefinitely, and some day I would – ideally – like to work abroad; quite possibly in a child-centred job again and perhaps in Turkey, a country I love.
However that won’t be for the foreseeable future. I have my hands full at Little Einstein’s, it’s a job where there are continually new goals to be reached, and I have never lost that feeling that it’s what I really want to do.
Carol-Anne Hegbin is Nursery Manager at Little Einstein’s at Hillside Road in Glasgow.