It’s not easy to operate a mixed-age daycare. I know, because that’s what I do each day.
I’m a home educator, serving children from infancy to five years old, and I spend my days active on my feet, bearing the load alone from early morning until late evenings.
These are children from different families, cultures, and parenting skills. They are not my own children, but I serve them, and love all six of them in addition to my own two children (eight in total).
There are ebbs and flows, days of sheer pride, resilience, rewards, and happiness. Then there are days when loneliness, frustration, and resentment create nothing short of agony in my mind.
I have often questioned my intelligence, and my knowledge for the field I have come to have a love/hate relationship with. (Maybe you can relate?)
Be it conversations that have been misconstrued, cultural differences, pushbacks, behaviors, classroom challenges, personal divisions – I have endured them all.
The demands of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, potty training schedules, food preparation, nap arrangements, curriculum building, activities, and the individualized needs – became too much to handle. Selflessly I gave myself to all and the demands wore me down.
I was suffering from burnout and fatigue, and I needed a change.
In the beginning of my career, I had a mentor who helped me learn how to operate a home daycare, but a mentor can only take you as far as they know. It’s up to the individual to go further than a mentor’s capacity.
In retrospect, it’s clear that I was focused on proving I operated a real SCHOOL – a place where learning happened. I worked hard to prove I was not a babysitter, but was comparable to any commercial setting, selling the image of kindergarten readiness.
I spent long hours helping children achieve that goal. Three-year-olds in my school were drilled to read Bob Books and Hooked on Phonics. The younger children were occupied with coloring pages and brightly lit toys. My environment was over-stimulating, and the children’s behavior evidenced a system gone wrong.
Ironically, the harder I worked, the more chaos reigned.
It became too much to handle, so I folded and took a one-year hiatus. Before returning to the field, I sought knowledge and understanding.
I completed a degree in Early Childhood. I trained myself to prepare lesson plans based on programs or popular contents that seemed to mimic successful preschool strategies and curriculums – yet which lacked authentic children engagement.
Little did I know, I was going to repeat the past, because I was not yet tapping into the interest of the children. Fortunately, I remembered the Reggio Emilia approach I had read about; it had felt right to me when I was completing my degree, and I decided to explore it further.
Though, play based learning felt contrived at first. I resisted the urge to enter play-based on the assumption that clients needed proof of their children’s learning. Completed worksheets, coloring within the lines, product art, proof of letter, number, and shape recognitions displayed all over the rooms – these measures referenced my idea of a learning environment.
Finally, I was down in the trenches one day listening to the echoes of my own mind when it said…
“Try it – you have nothing to lose!“
I immediately started to follow accounts on social media that were focused on child-directed play. Slowly I started to lean into the change. Cautiously, I blended traditional and play based – instead of jumping 100% in.
I was searching for ways to improve my environment and practice – to take it from wall-to-wall coverings, sensorial overload, and hectic and overwhelmingly achy days… to calmer, slower, intentional (burnout-free) days.
My first shift was cleaning the walls of my daycare, painting the environment, and making it less overwhelming. I then donated lots of the battery-operated toys, the ones that would trigger my nerves, and I decided to downsize.
I still felt like an imposter, though. Absorbing visual cues, without the knowledge behind them, makes for unsure application. I was desperate to find a learning pathway that jived with my culture, personality, and energy. Soon I found myself down a rabbit hole of offerings.
There is a saying attributed to Lao Tzu: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
One online class from Fairy Dust Teaching helped things “click” for me in a way I had not yet experienced. This led to more offerings – and soon, I was learning to research, implement, and make the shift.
I started to observe the children more, follow their direction, and facilitate their learning. I became present. Not the presence of taking a check for the day, but tuning in to each child – the whole child – the little beings.
Learning and implementing the strategies of play-based learning helped transform my teacher’s heart and the landscape of my play environment. I love to PLAY.
Today, I am proud to tell my story of how play-based learning helped me overcome burnout and build resilience – and how I opened my heart to love, and now have the energy, the enthusiasm, and the know-how to continually serve children and families.
Fawcett, Mary (2009). Learning through child observation. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Gronlund, Gaye (2013). Planning for play, observation, and learning in preschool and kindergarten. Redleaf Press.
Hoorn, Judith V.; Nourot, Patricia M.; Scales, Barbara; Alward, Keith R. (2014). Play at the Center of the Curriculum. Pearson Education.
Sheridan, Mary; Howard, Justine; Alderson, Dawn (2011). Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years. Routledge.
Smidt, Sandra (2010). Playing to Learn: The role of play in the early years. Routledge.