This is a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts.
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My name is Danielle Scanlon, and I work at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts. I have been in the early education and care field for about six and a half years.
As an infant teacher, I appreciate the value of early education and the amount of work infant and toddler teachers put into each lesson. Infants learn more in their first year than any other year of life. Young children, all children, learn best through play, hands on experimentation, and manipulation.
You cannot teach what red and yellow make by reading a book on colors. Infant and toddler teachers know this, so they create activities that let young children discover what happens to colors when they move them around on a giant piece of paper, covering themselves with paint.
I try to get the families involved in their infants’ education by inviting them to our room to help us create the paint art. This helps parents understand the value of play. The parents learn to appreciate that children need to explore using all of their senses, and children need to be able to make a mess to understand cause and effect.
I had an infant enter my room at eight months old who had never been on his stomach before because of medical reasons. He did not know how to sit up without any support; and he did not bring his hands together to hold his own bottle. He also did not have a lot of verbal skills. At our center, infants become toddlers at 15 months, but they also have to be able to walk on their own. I suggested to his parents that we introduce early intervention, and the parents wanted to wait until he was 12 months old to screen him for these services. While we were waiting, I would work with this infant every day. I put him on his stomach and helped to hold up his head. I did exercises to help him strengthen his core muscles so he could crawl. He learned how to sit, feed himself with a spoon, hold his bottle, crawl, and walk on time. He was able to move to toddlers on time and he had a 35-word vocabulary when he left.
I have a bachelor’s degree in English and Theatre from Worcester State College and a bachelor’s equivalency in early education. I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Early Education and Leadership through Worcester State University. The classes that are being offered now are funded through grants, but the grants are running out and I am afraid that I would have to drop out because I couldn’t pay for this degree on my own.
Early education is like the foundation of a house. Without a strong foundation, it will crumble. To ensure a strong foundation, there need to be high-quality carpenters. Infant and toddler teachers are the carpenters who create the building blocks that construct the rest of the children’s education. But all too often, infant and toddler teachers leave for better compensation in public schools, or they leave the field all together. It’s hard to keep a high-quality infant and toddler teachers when our wages are at the poverty line. Early educators cannot afford the quality early education that we know to be so crucial for our own children.
I do not think teachers – from infant teachers to those who work in high schools – will ever be paid what they are worth. We are priceless. But I do think it will add credibility and value to infant and toddler teachers to raise their wages above the poverty line.